I worked closely with Rabbi Schuster for over twenty years and I can say with confidence that what one saw in public, one saw in private. If Reb Meir clapped his hands with intensity while davening Mincha at the Kosel, he did the same while benching in private. There was never a gap between the inside and the outside.
Ahhh, the stories…there are hundreds of stories – and they all really happened. But the most amazing story of all lies in the daily and dogged pursuit by Reb Meir of his mission. There was never any let up in Rabbi Schuster’s burning intensity. Nothing could be left for tomorrow. “We have to do this right away,” was one of his most repeated statements. The needs of Klal Yisrael were urgent and demanded immediate attention. And even this was not enough. After more than one Yom Kippur, Reb Meir said to me that he had done teshuva for not having done enough and that this year he was determined to do more. And then he would look at me with those penetrating eyes as if to say, “Nu, what are we waiting for. Let’s get cracking.”
This sincerity was obvious from the minute someone met him. “I broke all the rules,” said one girl who let Reb Meir drive her to Neve Yerushalayim after he found her at the Kosel. “I went with a strange man, in a strange country to an unknown destination…I went with him because he seemed so entirely authentic.”
One day, during the second Intifadeh, Reb Meir came barging in to my office. “The Americans are not coming”, he blurted out. “We have to work with Israelis.” I looked at him in astonishment. “Reb Meir,” I gently tried to explain, “you are not Israeli. I am not Israeli. We don’t understand their mentality. We barely speak Hebrew.” Try to explain to Reb Meir that he shouldn’t do something… Today, the Shorashim Torah Centers, started under the auspices of the Heritage House, has branches all around the country. Every week, about 1,000 Israelis come to hear classes because the ‘mad’ Reb Meir just wouldn’t let up.
But it wasn’t just the single-minded pursuit of his dreams that drove his success. There is a heavenly cloud of Siyata Dishmaya that hovers over Reb Meir’s every move. Rabbi Sender Chochomovitch is the Rosh Yeshiva of Binyan Olam, an organization of significant scope for South Americans in Israel. One day, he entered into negotiations with us to open up a hostel for Spanish speakers. “Why do you need us?” I asked Rabbi Chochomovitch. “I need you”, he said, “because I want to tap into Reb Meir’s Siyata Dishmaya.”
There were so many instances when this Siyata Dishmaya was almost tangible. Once, there were two young South Africans hanging around the men’s Heritage House hostel for a few weeks before taking off to other countries. Six months later, one of them walked into my office. “I am learning in Aish HaTorah now”, he proudly announced. And then he told me the following story:
“My experiences in Israel – including meeting Reb Meir – did not convince me to change my travel plans. I went to Egypt and was watching TV there when some news item about Israel came on the air. The news report showed a scene from the Kosel. And there, standing in front of the Kosel, was Rabbi Schuster. So I fled to Turkey where the same thing happened. Reb Meir was stalking me!” The young man proceeded to relate how he finally reached Spain and was waiting at the bus station in Madrid for a bus that would take him further afield. While he waited, he started reflecting on the messages that he had received from Rabbi Schuster via television newscasts. He never took that bus. He went to the airport, flew to Israel and entered Yeshiva.
Reb Meir is alive but we cannot know what he remembers of his own glorious achievements. This tribute site is but a reminder to us of the zechuyos enshrined in a living legacy of our time.