This story may sound “typical” of Reb Meir but anyone who has read Rabbi Winston’s books or heard him speak will understand that this was not one of Reb Meir’s “typical” finds. What an amazing zechus (merit) for Reb Meir to have brought people like Rabbi Winston back into the fold…
As part of a trek across Europe, I detoured to the Middle East, wandered through Israel and made my way to the Kotel one summer afternoon. In the Kotel Plaza area, I was confronted by a friendly, rather thin gentleman who spoke somewhat hurriedly and asked me just one question, “Are you Jewish?” To this day, I do not know why I felt so secure in answering that question, considering how Orthodox he looked with his long, wiry beard and his jacket draped over his shoulders. But I answered in the affirmative and before long we were chatting about Toronto, from where I hail. Eventually, he asked me if I’d be interesting in having a Shabbat meal the next weekend. I accepted the offer thinking that it would be one of those experiences I could share with my friends and family back in Canada. (“Hey, I had a Shabbat meal with a real live Orthodox family!”) I must have changed my mind a dozen times before Friday came along. When it finally did, I felt I had no choice but to show up.
The rabbi had set me up with a young family of ba’ale teshuvah living in the Ma’alot Dafna area of Jerusalem, with whom I spoke for hours that night, while enjoying the heimishe food and lovely hosts. That led to my visiting Ohr Samayach for a few days the next week before resuming my trip across Europe. But the die had been cast. Little did I know when I left Israel that I’d be back in yeshivah the next year and, in time, living an Orthodox life in Israel and helping out in the area of outreach as well. And all because someone had the strength, conviction and courage to ask me one simple but profound question: “Are you Jewish?”
For years, I enjoyed bumping into Reb Meir at the Kotel and telling him what I was up to, reminding him of his part in all that I was doing – including raising my own Torah-observant children and affecting others through my writings and lectures. In typical Reb Meir fashion, he would smile and encourage me but gave all the credit for his accomplishments to God. I also delighted in hearing him lead a minyan which he did with all the energy he had, unabashedly letting God know how much he loved Him and appreciated all that He did for him.