Yesterday, on 17 Adar I, a neshamah that exerted its last ounce of strength while here in this transitory world bringing tens of thousands of neshamos to their soul-roots was, itself, returned to the t’zror hachaim with the petirah of Rabbi Meir Schuster, zt”l, after a long illness.
Reb Meir was the proverbial “legend in his own time,” as he carved a mythical niche for his name in the annals of the kiruv movement as an incredibly effective recruiter for a wide array of kiruv programs, baal teshuvah yeshivos and womens’ seminaries. And while he sought out new soldiers for the milchemes Hashem in a variety
of eclectic venues including Yerushlayim’s Central Bus Station; he was most identified with the Kosel Hamaaravi where he literally “picked them off the Wall.”
It is a sad day for the Torah world because of the loss of this great, great man. Rav Meir Schuster zatzal passed away today after a debilitating illness. This man was singlehandedly responsible for bringing more people closer to Avinu sh’bashamayim than entire outreach organizations. Without exaggeration, many tens of thousands of people came to Torah observance because of the actions of this man.
The greatest insight into this man was perhaps a shailah that was presented to Rav Elyashiv zatzal, when Reb Meir had lost his father. According to the Torah, the period of mourning lasts for three days. Chazal extended this period to seven days. Rabbinic extensions of halachos are universally observed in Judaism. Chazal tell us (based on Koheles 10:8) regarding Rabbinic enactments – “Kol HaPoretz Geder yeshacheno nachash – anyone who breaks the fence (on a Rabbinic law) deserves that a snake should bite him.” Yet, here things were different. Every day that Rabbi Meir Schuster was not at the Kosel, the wailing wall, was a day that Jewish people would not get a chance to be brought to Torah-true Judaism. Should he sit three days or seven days?
It was, of course, not even a question. Rav Elyashiv paskened that he may only sit for three days. Rav Elyashiv had never ruled in this manner for anyone else. Rav Meir Schuster was irreplaceable.
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.
Reading the stories about Rabbi Meir Schuster that are just now being collected, I am transported back over thirty years ago.
It is 1976. The man who was to become my husband was praying at the Kotel. Larry had finished his time in a kibbutz ulpan, and was still volunteering in a development town in the Negev, when he decided to spend the weekend in Jerusalem. He was scheduled to return to the States a few weeks later, with no clear plans. Larry put a note in a crevice in the Wall and then prayed sincerely to find his path in life. When he finished, there was a tap on his shoulder. It was Rabbi Schuster, asking him, “Do you have the time?” Thank G-d, Larry did have the time, and he followed Reb Meir to a yeshiva for baalei teshuva where he began the process of finding his life’s path. After nine years of learning and teaching at Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, young wandering Larry became Rabbi Aryeh Goetz.
It is 1978, and after completing my first year of medical school, I was volunteering on the oncology ward at Hadassah Hospital, visiting with patients who were dying, while my secret mission was to learn the purpose of living. During my first few days in Israel, I went to the Kotel, and Reb Meir Schuster found me there. His purity and his sincerity came right into my heart. I began to study at the women’s division of Ohr Someyach, and the process of understanding the purpose of living began for me as well.