On an a El Al flight to the US about 27 years ago, during November, sitting in the middle of about 15 Rabbis, I decided to qvetch a bit to the rabbis that I was sitting near, complaining that I do not see the kind of rabbi like a Rabbi Goldstein, whom I met when I was 10 days at the University Ulpan in Israel, when I was 20-years-old.
This Rabbi Goldstein arranged for me and my friends to eat and sleep near the Western Wall, and asked for nothing for it.
The rabbi sitting next to me asked me tell him more about it.
So here is the story related to the fellow sitting next to me:
I was 10 days in Israel, in September 1970. 20-years-old. It was a Friday morning, on my way to swim in Netanya, with a little bag and a bathing suit and a towel and a change of clothing, planning to sleep on the beach.
I met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach near the bus station, whom I knew from Hebrew school in Philadelphia.
He asked what where I was going. I said that I was going swimming.
Rabbi Carlebach made an offer that I could not refuse: How about swimming at the Kotel?
Rabbi Carlebach proceeded to tell me about his friend Rabbi Goldstein, who had rented out the Lutheran Hostel near the Kotel for people like me who wanted to be near the Kotel for Shabbat. So I headed over there, with other students, following the pied piper Rabbi Carlebach, wearing my Phillies hat, which would become my kipa at the Kotel for Shabbat.
As Rabbi Carlebach had promised, there was a Rabbi Mordecai Goldstein, flanked by a couple fellows with guitar, greeting students as we filed into the Lutheran Hostel for Shabbat, followed by a warm welcome from Rabbi Goldstein’s yeshiva on Mount Zion.
I distinctly remember Rabbi Goldtein’s greeting to each of us, telling us that we should all feel at home. It was a joyous Shabbat with good food, enthusiastic dovoning and good feelings. Quite a story to tell my friends in Ulpan the next morning.
I went back there on Sukkot, and stopped in the Diaspora Yeshiva a few times during that first year in Israel. I always felt that Rabbi Goldstein’s warm greeting to someone whom he did not even know had kindled a love of hospitality which has affected my whole life in Israel. All this I told to the Rabbi sitting next to me on the flight, when I said to him that I simply do not meet Rabbis like that any more.
The rabbi smiled and thanked me for the nice story. A little later in the 11 hour journey to JFK, I asked the rabbi next to me what his name was. He smiled again and said “well, I am Rabbi Mordecai Goldstein”.
All I could say then was, “Thank you, Rabbi Goldstein”.
Today, as I read about Rabbi Goldstein’s funeral, which described the “gedolim” who paid their respects, I am one of the “Ketanim” who pays respects to a rabbi who followed the legacy of Avraham Avinu, sitting outside of his abode, to bring people in.
All I can say is , “Thank you Rabbi Goldstein”, for opening the Kotel to a generation of young people who emerged from the generation of the sixties, seeking and searching for themselves in Jerusalem.