David Berkovitz’s Story

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In 1973, at age 20, I went to Israel on a junior year abroad program. I thought I was religious enough not to be seeking spiritual awakenings but when I met Rabbi Schuster at the Kosel, I found out that I was wrong.

Rabbi Schuster approached me in his typical unassuming way to ask if I would come to his home for a “three-day” Rosh Hashanah. (This was years before the Heritage House existed).  I didn’t know who he was, he didn’t have any kind of organization or list of people to refer students to. He was just a guy inviting people to his home and must have sensed that I would benefit from the experience. It didn’t matter to him that I was wearing a yamulkah and said I was religious.  He had no qualms, no hidden agenda.  I accepted the offer.

We ate all the meals in his home. I don’t remember much from those three days with Rabbi Schuster, except that he was quiet, non-judgmental, and hospitable.  The “religion” was in the comfort.  I had such a fabulous davening with him in Kiryat Sans that I went back, on my own, for Yom Kippur.

I slept on the floor of the old Ohr Sameach building.  I slept so well that I arrived early to the 6:00 a.m. davening!  During a break in the davening, I went to Rabbi Schuster’s house to take a nap.  I slept soundly until he woke me. Little did I know that the Yom Kippur war had broken out during my nap but Rabbi Schuster told me nothing of what was going on.

When Yom Kippur ended, I broke the fast with Rabbi Schuster, his wife and children. After our goodbyes, I went to catch a bus back to school but there was a total black out – no buses, no traffic.  I returned to Rabbi Schuster’s and asked him if this was unusual for Motzaei Yom Kippur.  In his inimitable way, while he worked on building his Succah, he calmly said: “It’s probably no big deal, there was some kind of little outbreak in the Golan Heights earlier today”.  For me, all this meant was one more night sleeping in Rav Schuster’s apartment.  I didn’t find out until the next day that it also meant the start of the Yom Kippur War.