Gershon Fern’s Story

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Growing up in Miami, FL, with a strong Jewish identity, well meaning parents and a paltry Jewish education left me at a loss at how the Jewish people could survive for over 3,000 year when the 2 most important days of the calendar (Passover and Yom Kippur) were both days of food deprivation!  Furthermore, when I attended Duke University and planned social events for the Jewish students there, many folks never showed up a second time.  Again I asked myself, “We love to socialize, but not with each other.  How the heck are we still around?”.

Rav Meir changed all that when he pealed me off the Kosel in 1978 during my first ever trip to Jerusalem (during a kibbutz volunteering summer).  It was an erev Shabbos and he asked if I wanted to attend a class for Americans on Jewish philosophy and go for a Shabbos meal to an American family that had made aliyah.  My curiosity was peaked and before I knew it, I was learning about what a true friend is during a “48 Ways” class taught by Reb Noach Weinberg, T”zl.

After the class, Reb Meir was waiting for me and asked if I’d like to personally meet Reb Noach.  Before I had time to answer, I was escorted to Reb Noach’s office and invited to stay and learn some more.  I told Reb Noach that was impossible as I had to return to the kibbutz by Monday morning, but would consider coming back for a few days at the end my stay in Israel some 3 weeks later.

Reb Meir wrote down the day I planned to return in his black book (as I would later learn).  I traveled south of Eilat with my kibbutz friend, Jon Braverman (now the well known author and lecturer Rabbi Nachum Braverman), at the end of our kibbutz obligation.   Before traveling north, we decided to stay a couple of days in Jerusalem and I was going to drop by Aish HaTorah once again.

The worse cold of my life “plagued” my last day in the Sinai and accompanied me back to Jerusalem.  I called the family I spent Shabbos with some 3 weeks before and asked if I could sleep there for the night.  I was too sick to go anywhere else.  I took a taxi to Bait Vegan and “crashed” on arrival in the bed they had prepared for me.  (By the way, I am convinced there is still sand in that bed some 30 years later from that evening!).

Fifteen hours later (yes, I was still sleeping), I got a knock on my door, “Good Morning!  You have a phone call and he must speak with you immediately!”.  Besides being totally disoriented, I had know idea who could possibly be called me (this was easily 10 years before the first cell phone!).  “Yes”, I answered, “WHO is calling?”.  “This is Meir Schuster”, was the reply, “You were supposed to be at the Yeshiva last night.  Are you coming?”.   “Yes, but…..”, was all I could get out.   He told me emphatically, “Pack up your stuff.  I’m coming to make sure you don’t get lost on the way.  See you in 15 minutes”.

You see, Reb Meir “figured” that if I wasn’t in the yeshiva the day I said I was coming, the only other place I would be was at the family he set me up for Shabbos.  Was that a good guess or ruach HaKodesh?

Sure enough, still half asleep with sand in my hair, feet and everything in between, I was traveling with Rav Meir and 2 other newly acquired “friends” back to Aish in the Old City on an Egged bus to save a few shekels.

All-in-all, I was only going to stay a long weekend because I was on a Navy ROTC scholarship and extending my stay would have be considered AWOL (a severe military infraction).  I confronted Rav Meir with this dilemma.  Without batting an eye he asked me straight on,  “Gershon – was your commitment first with the US Navy or with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai”.  He left me no wiggle room and let me discover for myself where my priorities had to be.

Those 4 days became 4 weeks and then 4 months.  I needed to return to the US to be with my mother, a”h, but not before my life because infused with a deep appreciation for the Torah and the Jewish impact on the world.  The reason the Jews were still around, I finally realized, was the mystical glue the Torah provides from generation to generation!

My first Yom Tov back at Duke was Pesach.  Rabbi Ezriel Tauber called me to invite me to come to Monsey, NY for the entire Yom Tov.  I asked him how he got my number and of course he told me Rav Meir had called him from Israel to keep in touch with me.

Today I live with my family in Monsey with my wife Batsheva of 29 years, ken yirbu.  and have the zechus to davin right next to Rabbi Tauber at one of netz minyonim when he is in town.  It’s been over 30 years and Rav Meir’s influence is alive and well.  May it be a zechus for him and his mishpacha ad be’as hagoel..