Baruch’s Story

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Here’s my story. It was 1978 and I spent the first semester of my junior year of college in a study abroad program in Oxford, England.  I decided to take the second semester off from school to travel about. Either I bought or someone gave me a copy of ‘Let’s Go Europe’, a college kid’s ‘bible’ for traveling. My first stop was Israel, where I immediately went off to work on a kibbutz in the lower Galilee.  I grew bored after a month of hard work, and a lot of food.  It was a Friday, and I took a bus to Jerusalem on my first stop of touring around Israel.  I checked into an Arab youth-hostel in the Old City, just inside the Jaffa Gate.  The ‘bible’ said if in Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon, one must go to the Kotel and watch the ‘Hassidim’ dance and sing in accepting the Sabbath. So be it. And so too began another saga in my life.

My first glimpse of the Kotel affected me more than I would ever have imagined. I remember crying and wondering why.  I hung around for sometime as I witnessed loads of people in all types of dress and appearance congregate.  I felt like what I was, an outsider looking in.  I remained aloof and detached, yet comfortable.  And then I felt the tap on my shoulder from behind, and turned to greet for the first time, Reb Meir Schuster.

I don’t even remember a real greeting, like Hello or Hi. That seemed to be understood by his soft and friendly demeanor.  Rather, I remember and will always remember the TWO questions:  Are you Jewish?  Would you like to have a Shabbos meal by a family?  Now, the reader should know that I knew I was Jewish, and I vaguely knew what Shabbos was, but any details of either were unknown.  Had I already eaten, I probably would have passed on the invite. But I was hungry and this sounded as good an offer as any.  It never once occurred to me that Reb Schuster was anything but legitimate. I accepted. He told me he had some other people to talk to for a moment and he’d be back to show me where I was to go.  During this time, some guys from Aish HaTorah (I didn’t know this at the time) came up to me and talked with me a bit.  They told me if I was going to be around Sunday morning, a great class entitled ’48 Ways to Wisdom’ would be given by the head of the school they attended, and pointed to where that was.  I registered the information.

When Reb Meir returned, he took me and few other young people in tow on a brisk walk out of the Old City.  Meandering through a dozen different streets, I shortly lost any sense of where I was but it was enchanting to me to see the oldest streets and buildings I ever remember seeing. (This was Mea Shearim).  Reb Meir deposited a kid here and there and it finally came to my turn.  I was introduced to a young Chassidishe family, where the husband and boys sat at separate tables from his wife and daughters (how strange!).  They were from California (Wow!), and didn’t always look the way they looked, and certainly didn’t live the way they were then living (Wow, again!).  The evening progressed, the food was good, the company interesting, and the customs, well (Wow, again and again!). By meal’s end, my host walked me in the direction of the youth hostel, and gave me directions for the rest of the way.  As I walked back to the Old City, I was just numb with the events and sensations of that evening.  Little did I know that this meeting with Reb Meir was but the first of many, and the story didn’t end here (B”H).

Saturday was spent touring the Old City of Jerusalem, taking in all the sights.  By night time I was exhausted and went to sleep early.  I woke up early Sunday with nothing to do so I figured I would go to that Rabbi’s class on ’48 Ways.’  I attended the class but the Rabbi (Rav Noach Weinberg) was out of town, so one of his students conducted the class.  At its conclusion I headed out, intending to proceed with touring – this time to the south, Eilat.  I had one foot out the door of the Yeshiva when my arm was grabbed and there was Reb Meir once again.  “Where you headed?”  “Oh, just leaving, going to take off for Eilat,” I said.  As the reader can imagine, I didn’t get away too easily.  Reb Meir convinced me that one more stop on my travels would be the best, Ohr Somayach.  But I resisted, said I needed to check out of the hostel.  No problem. Reb Meir hailed a taxi and we went off to the youth Hostel, collected my belongings, and proceeded onto Ohr Somayach.  And so began my multi-year odyssey in learning Torah and attending the Yeshiva Ohr Somayach.  A lifetime later – with six children, and five grandchildren (bli ayin hora) – my family and especially I, have a whole lot to thank Reb Meir for. He should only be well and live to 120.