Upon his passing, I need to offer a 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.