It was the early 1980’s and Rabbi Meir Schuster Z”TL had already become a permanent fixture at the Kotel. Although he had met thousands of young Jews and become the catalyst for their introduction to Judaism, something was still bothering him. Simply put, there was no place “Jewish” for these kids to stay in the Old City. There were youth hostels in the Christian Quarter and in the Muslim Quarter that were regularly filled with Jewish students, but there was no place Jewish for them to find a budget- oriented and sociable place to spend the night. And so, Rabbi Schuster launched his second groundbreaking venture—Heritage House.
It was clear to “Reb Meir,” as he is fondly known to so many, that if there was a cheap and comfortable place for young Jews to stay in the Old City, a place that not only had beds and washing machines, but that also featured stimulating, non-threatening Jewish programming, that he would be able to help spark more Jewish souls. And so with the need and the solution clearly in front of him, he embarked on an ambitious fund raising and building campaign, traveling the world meeting with potential funders who he hoped would understand the great need that he perceived. After many months of tireless work, he was ready to begin renovation on two locations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
In 1985, the Heritage House youth hostel in the Jewish Quarter opened its doors for the first time. The men’s and women’s youth hostels are housed in renovated Crusader Period buildings located a short walk from the Kotel. In keeping with his vision, Heritage House not only provided clean, comfortable and free accommodations, but the dedicated and talented staff created a pleasant, low key atmosphere where students could ask questions about Judaism and discuss the meaning of their heritage and identity. To date, over 60,000 young Jews from around the world have been hosted by Heritage House, and today Heritage House annually provides thousands of visitors with a unique place to stay; and, if they choose, to also experience classes in introductory Judaism – as well as special Shabbas and holiday programming – all in the heart of the Jewish world that is the Old City of Jerusalem. Like Reb Meir himself, Heritage House has become a Jerusalem landmark. Indeed, just as it is hard to imagine the Kotel without Reb Meir, it is difficult to imagine the Rova (Jewish Quarter) without Heritage House. It is because of this great man and the great institution he founded, that literally thousands of Jews have found their way home; home not just to Israel and Jerusalem, but home to the Jewish people, to Jewish destiny, and to the timeless depth of their own Jewish souls.