A Tribute to Rabbi Meir Shuster
Shabbos – Hamakor shel Bracha
Living in the coastal town of Haifa, employed as a Dental Assistant on the Carmel was an ideal setting for a newly absorbed immigrant. Everything was going well with my aliyah and adjustment to Israel, but I felt something was missing in my life. Actually, I had this feeling as a child and it continued into adulthood. In Haifa, I had met a young religious family who invited me for Shabbos meals and brought me to an orthodox Shul. I enjoyed dressing up in formal clothing, eating traditional Shabbos food and found the Shabbos davening pleasant. I see now and appreciate that growing up in a Conservative home prepared me for leaning to the right as far as observance was concerned. At shul I saw young women davening Shemonah Esrei, taking three steps back, bowing, etc. What are they doing? Why are they doing that? On Shabbos I learned we do not turn on lights or cut paper and more. I realized how much I did not know about Orthodox Judaism. On the other hand I had many secular friends in Haifa and nearly every Saturday in the summer we would go spend time at the beach. One day while enjoying the ocean breeze, sun tanning and watching the waves, I said to myself, “You cannot be wishy washy anymore like Conservative Judaism – doing what was comfortable- it’s either Shabbos all the way or not at all. I made my decision. No more beach on Saturday.
Then the wedding invitation came in the mail. As a former volunteer a few years before in a left wing HaShomer HaTzair kibbutz, prior to living in Haifa, I was invited to a chasana of a kibbutz member. While at the simcha, I met a young man, dressed with a kippah and tzizit. I was curious as to why he was at the chasana. From the family I knew in Haifa, religious boys wore yarmulkas and tzitzit. How could a religious person live in such left wing non-religious kibbutz?? This young man told me he had been a volunteer a few months before but was not religious when living there. He was not happy there either. One day when he went to visit Jerusalem and he met Rabbi Shuster at the Kotel and Rabbi Schuster asked him if he wanted to spend Shabbos by a religious family and see a yeshiva and stay for a few days to learn. Rabbi Schuster brought him to Yeshivat Ohr Somayach where he decided to stay. I, too, had always wanted to go to Jerusalem for a Shabbos and I asked him if he knew of a place where I could stay. He gave me Rabbi Shuster’s address and when I came back to Haifa from the wedding I wrote the Rabbi a letter asking him to call me.
Rabbi Schuster called me a week later. I told him I would like to come to Jerusalem for a Shabbos but I do not know anyone or have any place to stay so I asked if he could help me out. Usually, it was the other way around. The hundreds of Baalei Teshuva in Ohr Somayach and Neve Yerushalayim were asked by Rabbi Shuster if they would like to spend a Shabbos by a family.
Already knowing the modest dress of religious girls from Shul, I prepared my clothing accordingly and was off to Kiryat Mattersdorf for a Jerusalem Shabbos in a long skirt and long sleeved blouse. I was set up by the Wittow family in Mattersdorf. From the moment I walked in the door I felt at home. The smell of Shabbos food, the children’s laughter and the excitement of getting ready for Shabbos filled the air. I fell in love with this Holy Day and the people who observed it. I expressed to Rabbi Wittow my desire to learn more about Judaism but felt that most religious schools were too advanced for me. Why I was just beginning my journey, and where could I possibly fit in? On Moetzei Shabbos I met with Rabbi Wittow and Rabbi Schuster and they said that there is a perfect place for me- Neve Yerushalayim. Sunday morning I came to Neve, met with the Dean, Rabbi Refson, shlita, sat in on classes and said to myself, “this is it, I want to learn Torah and be an authentic Jew”.
Rabbi Schuster is a major force behind the Teshuva movement. Thousands of us are indebted to him for directing us to the amazing Torah institutions created for the Baal Teshuva movement. A quiet, modest, unassuming man has enticed Jews to go and learn about their rightful heritage. His sincerity pierced the hearts of those who were searching for meaning in a Woodstock generation where “Woodstock” idealism did not fulfill our dreams. Our passion for fighting the establishment, protesting the Vietnam war transferred itself to coming closer to G-d, learning Torah and doing Mitzvot.
Now more than 35 years later my home is blessed with a wonderful husband, children and grandchildren. Rabbi Schuster and his wonderful Aishes Chayil, Esther ×¢×ž×•”×© have a chelek in this all. May HaShem bless Rabbi Schuster.