Meir Schuster z”l, who died on Monday
I met Meir Schuster in 1970, at the Kotel in my first days after arrival
from Madison. I felt an immediate affinity for Meir. I had been in Madison. And he was from Milwaukee. I was looking for myself as a Jew.
And Meir was there, at the Kotel, a selfless one man endeavor who only wanted to make sure that every Jew who sought a Jewish soul from within would have someone to talk to.
In those days before the internet, when few people had telephones, Meir
developed a network of people who would welcome wandering Jews into their homes, especially on Shabbat.
For years, Meir Schuster would arrive at the Kotel each day, to be
there for fellow Jews who had no real home in Israel.
And each Shabbat evening, Meir would line up people near the Kotel and dispatch them to warm welcoming homes.
Meir was the spark behind Rabbis who, perhaps, were too shy to come out and sit outside of their tent of learning, to put them in touch with Jews who sought out the basics of Jewish life, after the sensational sixties catapulted a generation of seeking Jews to Jerusalem.
Meir was there every day at the Kotel, no matter what.
And when Meir’s infant son was killed in a tragic accident, Meir actually asked a question of a great Rabbi if he would could leave his shiva home to return to the Kotel to reach out to Jews whom he may have missed.
Hundreds if not thousands of people have Meir Schuster Kotel stories
which changed the lives of people whom they loved..
Here is mine. When I was 24, already in the midst of my fifth year in
Israel, I got worrying signals from my younger brother, Neal, who was
a man on campus, a man of music, and a man who did not mind the
company of non Jewish girls.
Neal even toyed with the idea of using a stage name, Neal Alan, when he performed with his drums in a band.
On Pesach, I came back home one thought in mind. How to interest my brother in a life of Israel, Torah and meaning. Neal had heard about fun summer programs in Israel, and it was not hard to interest him in coming on a program of sightseeing, tours and girls. I threw a curve ball in my brother’s direction, however.
Perhaps Neal would come to learn a Jerusalem school for Jewish studies – for free – for a few weeks, before his summer program would begin. I told Neal about Rabbis who were warm spirited, and that they would not ask him to do anything more than to wear a Kippa.
Neal was hip to the idea, and after he came to visit me in May, on his third or fourth day in Israel, I accompanied my brother to the Kotel.
And there was Meir Schuster.
He welcomed my brother with a hug that my brother never forgot, and asked if he would like to come to learn Torah for a few weeks, saying that it would not cost him anything, and that he could still have time to join his Jewish Agency tour group.
Neal readily agreed. Meir’s hug of my brother changed his life.
Neal started using his Hebrew name, Nachum, with his fist exposure to the life of observant Jews. Nachum went home to finish school, and returned to Israel two years later, just after his BA.
Meeting up with my brother in Jerusalem on his first day, we went together to the Kotel, where of course we saw Meir Schuster once again, where my brother got another hug of encouragement.
Nachum announced, on his first day back in Israel, at that moment that he was here to stay, and he, too, chose a life as an observant Jew after much searching.
It took my brother a little while to realize that the initial meeting with Meir Schuster on his first time in Jerusalem had not been prearranged.
Meir was just there, in the tradition of Abraham, who “sat outside of his tent, in the heat of the day, waiting for strangers to appear.”
Nachum died of cancer a little more than three years ago, leaving a wife and four grown sons and their families.
Nachum awaits Meir Shuster with a hug of appreciation from above.