Reb Meir Schuster zt”l

I have to add a few words of personal appreciation for Rabbi Schuster zt”l… just because I don’t know where I would be if not for his influence in my life. By the time I arrived in Israel between my sophomore and junior years of college, I had already considered becoming more observant, but had not stayed with it — and my trip to Israel wasn’t supposed to be about Jewish discovery.

If I was not what people called a “Wall bouncer,” someone whom Rav Schuster discovered at the Kotel, it was because I didn’t even make it to the Wall. By the time I descended from the bus to Jerusalem, Let’s Go guide in hand, I had plans to spend a few nights at a hostel on King George Street. But one of Reb Meir’s Heritage House employees was there, in t-shirt, jeans, ubiquitous sandalim, and Tzitzis. Once he knew I was looking for a place to stay and was, in fact, Jewish, he escorted me to Reb Meir’s free Jewish youth hostel, right there in the Old City.

Everything was set up to give student travelers the maximum opportunity to learn more about their Judaism while they were there. The hostel closed at 9 AM, and most tourist destinations opened at ten. Well, don’t you know it, there’s this Rabbi who gives a great lecture from 9-10 AM just a few blocks from here — and that’s how I ended up sitting in front of Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l, as he talked about the 48 Ways to Wisdom.

And then I got to meet Rabbi Schuster himself.

Since I was meeting him as the director of the center where I found a free bed, he didn’t have to come over and introduce himself. People routinely find it difficult to believe that such an active person in Jewish outreach could be painfully shy. One year, a Purim skit at Aish HaTorah bemoaned the tragedy to befall our nation… when someone bought Reb Meir a watch. You see, Larry Goetz was only one of thousands of young men approached by a tall, tanned Rabbi at the Kotel, asking for the time.

Rabbi Shuster wasn’t about character or charisma… he was about caring. All he wanted was the best for each potential student. And when someone giving you a free place to stay asks you if you’d like to try out studying in a yeshiva… Well, it’s hard to say no. And that’s how I ended up spending a day in Ohr Somayach.

A few weeks later, I was back in Jerusalem, planning to go on to Tverya, Tzfas, Haifa and Tel-Aviv — but after a night in Tverya, I was back in Jerusalem, back in the Heritage House, using the time to tour Judaism instead of touring Israel. And, obviously, I was hooked.

There are thousands of stories like mine that involve Reb Meir. I’m not just referring to stories where the protagonist adopted a lifetime of Jewish observance, or went off to study in a yeshiva or seminary. There are thousands of other stories where the person went home to America having tasted Judaism and Jewish spirituality, and was that much more likely to choose a Jewish partner for the journey through life. To Reb Meir, every soul he touched was a success story — though by even the most exacting measure, he was incredibly successful.

Reb Meir Schuster zt”l is a person who will be sorely missed. May his memory be for a blessing.

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3 Responses

  1. Jon Baker says:

    My own experiences: I went to them to find me a place for Shabbat lunch a couple of times, and both times was set up with families who didn’t speak English, only high-speed Hebrew and Yiddish. I don’t see the educational value in such matchups.

    I stayed at Heritage House once, and remembered your story as you told it back in ’85, that you were in the bus station, and a rabbi with a long beard and long coat offered you a place to stay at an Orthodox Youth Hostel – which I figured must have been R’ Schuster a”h. That Shabbat was a nice, supportive experience. Like a tiny shabbaton.

    When they sent me off to Ohr Somayach on Sunday morning, I figured that was the price to pay for spending Shabbat with them, to try out a yeshiva. I still remember a halacha taught in the shiur by R’ Dovid Gottlieb: if you’re about to daven, and you need to go to the bathroom, GO. Otherwise, you won’t be thinking about your tefillah when you’re saying it, you’ll be too preoccupied.

    The Jewish world lost a great marbitz Torah and marbitz Yiddishkeit this week. Yehi zichro baruch.

  2. David Kerner says:

    I too had the honor of giving the time to Rabbi Schuster, z’l. How many lives he was instrument in elevating! My first introduction to Judaism as an adult began with the person I think was Rabbi Schuster’s predecessor, Baruch Levine. He sent me, and a group of others, from the Kotel to a beautiful Shabbat meal in Meah Shearim, following by a nighttime tour of that neighborhood. Incredible. Prior to that, my Jewish memories were dodging spitballs at hebrew school. If anyone knows his contact information, I’d very much appreciate it!

  3. yy says:

    I must chime in.

    He was for me as well the first conduit towards a traditional Shabbos. I was 19, on a northern kibbutz, visiting J-m one Friday with some friends, one gentile, and there he was. He picked up rt away that I was a Yid and asked if I was interested in tasting a real, traditional (and free!) Shabbos meal. I platzed. I had been longing for a more authentic Jewish experience than kibbutz was giving me, but had no where to begin. He offered it. And it stays with me til this day. Powerful is not the word.

    I would end up meeting him by the Koisel a few more times and he introduced me to more shabbos hosts, and of course tried to sneak in some Yeshiva classes. I wasn’t up to the “brainwashing”, but his palpable CARING and WARMTH and weird INNOCENCE all managed to usher me in to a new world… which I have been progressively exploring ever since!

    Reb Meir, Reb Meir – THANK you.

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