The first time I saw Reb Meir Schuster was in the Beis Medrash of the Beis Yosef (Nevardok) Yeshiva. This was in 1971 or ’72 when Reb Meir was learning in the Nevardok Kollel. I lived in the area and learned in the Nevardok Beis Medrash in the evenings so I didn’t see Reb Meir often – only if I got there early or Reb Meir stayed late.
Reb Meir was not a time-waster. Whenever I saw him, he was learning. And his learning remained a constant throughout his life, until illness struck. For years, Reb Meir was a fixture in the Aish HaTorah Beis Medrash, learning daily with his chavrusah. Although he had many responsibilities elsewhere, he somehow managed to make time to come to the beis medrash – and when he was there, learning Torah was his total being.
I remember when the idea of kiruv at the Kosel (and other places) began. Reb Meir’s decision to get involved came after much thought and consultation with some of the greatest kiruv rabbis in our time. Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, had just started the Shma Yisroel Yeshiva, later to be known as Ohr Sameach. (This was before he opened Aish HaTorah where he would eventually invest most of his kiruv energies and where his name would become synonymous with Kiruv Richokim.)
The Shema Yisrel Yeshiva was located in the Nevardok building and it wasn’t long before Reb Meir was bringing perspective students to Shma Yisroel. But as natural as it now seems, the notion of canvassing the Kosel plaza and central bus stations on a full-time basis, searching for perspective “returnees”, was very new back then. Reb Meir was the first. It was a monumental decision that would mean leaving the comfortable confines of the kollel and trying to do something that had never been done before.
My wife and I lived in the Ma’a lot Dafna area for almost 30 years. We were on Reb Meir’s “drag”. It wasn’t infrequently that Reb Meir brought us some of the last stragglers he had “picked up” at
the Kosel. Since we were his last stop on his way home to Ezrat Torah for his own Shabbos meal, Reb Meir would usually arrive when we were up to dessert but had promised his “followers” a full Shabbos seudah. So we would help them make kiddush (in English) and then serve them a special meal all their own. Our young children weren’t always willing to stay for a second round so our guests usually did not experience the full family atmosphere. That notwithstanding, the Yiddishkeit they were exposed to and the gracious hospitality they received certainly had an effect on them. The everlasting credit for this, of course, is Reb Meir’s for having brought them on their rather long trek into uncharted territory (for them).
These journeys often began in unusual and sometimes difficult ways. We were told how Reb Meir sometimes found his “prey” in the Arab shuk, caught in the middle of bargaining for some wares from an Arab vendor. Reb Meir would interrupt the transaction and whisk the would-be customer away. This did not endear Reb Meir to the Arab merchants. They viewed him as their adversary and did not treat him kindly. This is but one example of the sort of challenges that Reb Meir faced. But he was never daunted nor afraid. He knew that Hashem was with him in his holy work.