"Dr. Larry Hurwitz -- Modern Renaissance Man"
Jewish Community News
Written by Henri Zvi Deutsch
One of the unique personalities in the Milwaukee Jewish community is
Dr. Lawrence Hurwitz. Devoted family man to his wife Marsha and their five
children, prominent oncologist, committed community member, gifted teacher,
outstanding story-teller and Torah scholar, he is a pioneer in bringing the
ancient tradition of Torah study to the computer age.
In his youth, he dreamt of becoming a rabbi, a teacher or a writer,
but his parents had other dreams. As with many other first generation Jewish
immigrants, they dreamt of their eldest son becoming a doctor. Being a dutiful
son, he fulfilled their dream. But the love for Judaism and for learning never
left him; in fact, they nourish him to this day.
In 1973, Dr. Hurwitz and his family settled in Milwaukee when he was
offered the position of Head of the Oncology Department at St. Joseph's
Hospital. At the time, he was the first oncologist in the state, and one of a
handful in the country. Among his earliest patients were a twelve-year-old boy
with lung cancer and a young woman with Hodgkin's Disease. Both of these
patients were to have tremendous impact on his life.
The boy's single mother - who had brought him to numerous medical
centers around the country -- came to Dr. Hurwitz as a last resort: not to cure
her son - for there was no cure -- but to care for him. As is so typical with
the young, the boy spoke of his hope for the future, never realizing that his
future was dying within weeks -- in Dr. Hurwitz's arms.
As an escape from the constant stress on the job - he was the
physician of record on some 8,000 death certificates - he delved into Torah
study. A strange phenomena occurred. As he read the Rabbinic texts, he started
to hear the various sages converse in his mind. The voices took on individual
personalities and guided his writing. Following a particularly stressful
experience at the hospital, he would go to his office for a time and devote
himself to his books. His staff knew not to disturb him. At home, he would go
off by himself during "sacred time," when his family knew to leave him
alone. He participated in several adult Jewish study groups. Though naturally
very shy, he blossomed in the discussions by contributing fascinating midrashim
In 1989, another turning point occurred in his life; the cancer
specialist was diagnosed with cancer. As word spread in the community of his
condition, a number of his fellow students approached him individually and
discovered a long-held suspicion: Dr. Hurwitz's secret life. For many years
he had been studying on his own, researching the various Midrashim in Rabbinic
literature and compiling them in his notebooks. They pleaded with him to share
his treasure trove with the public lest they disappear upon his death. It took
awhile for him to admit that they were right, but now he faced the
insurmountable task of organizing his resources into a text.
With the support of his wife and children, it became a family
project. His seventeen year-old son, Ari, a computer student at Nicolet High
School, suggested that the material be computerized. Dr. Hurwitz was
computer-illiterate at the time, but Ari said that was no problem; he would
help his father. With the approval of the Nicolet H.S. administration, Ari took
on the project as an Independent Study Project and for the next year both
father and son worked together every afternoon and evening on their computers
transferring two decades of notes. They not only accomplished their task, but
were brought closer together in the process.
By August 1992, they were ready for business. The unveiling of the
project took place at the Coalition for Jewish Education (CAJE) conference in
Los Angeles. Dr. Hurwitz flew out with a prototype and set up shop in the
exhibition area. Word spread quickly by rabbis and teachers who flocked to
witness for themselves the union of ancient Rabbinic texts and the computer.
Dr. Hurwitz returned to Milwaukee renewed with enthusiasm.
Torah Productions was incorporated in 1993, but it existed for some
20 years in Dr. Hurwitz's mind. When he first began working on the project he
imagined he was a journalist for Torah Productions interviewing Jewish sages of
the past. Later the voices came on their own.
Dr. Hurwitz amassed over 10,000 file cards. His background as a
medical researcher enabled him to cross-reference information in as many as
five areas. The information on the disks is the equivalent of some 30,000 pages
and would take up five feet of bookshelves. It simply boggles the mind to know
that all of this information is stored on one CD ROM!
He has completed the research on the Five Books of Moses. This is a
pioneering approach to Torah study, and is unique in its everyday language and
contemporary references. The material is of value to lay-people and scholars
alike. Bar and Bat Mitzvah children use the disks to prepare their own speeches
and rabbis refer to them when writing their sermons. Research which by
conventional means that would take endless hours now is accessible within
1994 brought another major change in Dr. Hurwitz's life. The
Hodgkin's Disease patient who first came to him as a young bride 22 years
before, died. On his way out from the hospital following her death, he handed
in his resignation. Perhaps had he not chosen oncology as a specialty, he might
still be a practicing physician today. But then again, perhaps this was all
Beshert -- it was all part of some Master Plan.
He now devotes his time completely to Torah Productions. His oldest
son Aaron is a graphic artist, and together with his brother-in-law, Joe
Sibilski, does the art work; Ari continues contributing his computer skills and
Diny, the youngest son, is the business brain behind the enterprise. None of
this could have happened without the continuous support of his wife
Dr. Hurwitz plans to continue writing and teaching, especially young
people. He is also ready to share his secret world via the Internet, where he
is known as Shale and can be reached at www.torahproductions.com
Larry Hurwitz is a classic example of someone who changed his
successful career in mid-life to pursue the life-long dream of his youth.
Though short in stature, to those who known him, Dr. Hurwitz stands ten feet
tall. His compassion for his fellow humans - which drew him to oncology in the
first place -- already makes him unique. We in Milwaukee are indeed fortunate
to have him in our midst.
The Torah La-Am Library is a computerized, encyclopedic anthology
containing over 10,000 pieces of midrashic legends, stories, quotes, and
Rabbinic commentary. Torah La-Am is available on CD-ROM and is capable of word
search, editing, copying, interactive and multimedia presentations. Over 500
topics are included in the alphabetical index.
Sedra Bytes, computer programs with information on the weekly sedra
or Torah portion are available starting at $19.95 each.
Henri Zvi Deutsch is an award-winning writer and poet. He resides
in Milwaukee with his wife, writer, Sue Deutsch.