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Former Milwaukeean attends program unveiling

By Leon Cohen of The Chronicle staff
The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle
January 30, 2001

MILWAUKEE — Former Milwaukeean Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Twerski said he doesn't know why he was invited to appear with President George W. Bush at the White House Monday, when Bush announced creation of an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Twerski, brother of Congregation Beth Jehudah spiritual leader Rabbi Michel Twerski, told The Chronicle Tuesday that the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, of which he is medical director emeritus, has ``no religious content at all" and won't benefit from this new program.

Dr. Twerski guessed that he may have been invited because he has a reputation as both a Hasidic rabbi and a psychiatrist who has expertise in treating addiction -- though ``how they [the White House staff] know about me I haven't found out."

But he may also have been invited because he believes that ``basically, the idea is good" -- i.e., the idea of having the federal government provide tax funds to religious institutions that are doing social service work, such as helping the homeless, drug-addicted, convicts, etc.

Twerski, who attended a White House briefing on the program Monday, said that previous rules have prevented religious organizations that do valuable community service work from receiving government funds. Bush, Twerski said, ``wants to remove the barriers."

``It's been demonstrated that religious people have a kind of enthusiasm to provide community services and do a good job," Twerski said. ``Why deprive the community of some workers who are highly motivated?"

Twerski said he knows there is ``a knee-jerk church-and-state reaction" from many in the Jewish community. But he believes that application of this concept ``has gone to an extreme"; that ``there will be adequate safeguards" to prevent funding of religious coercion or proselytizing; and even if the safeguards aren't 100 percent effective, ``I think much more good will be done than any possible harm."

``We're in a situation where the prevalent philosophy among young people is 'If it feels good, do it,'" Twerski said. ``As a result we have severe, serious problems of addiction, AIDS, violence and abuse because there are no firm social values. I don't know where social values are going to come from if not from faith.''


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