Meir and Esther Schuster lived upstairs from us on Rechov Even HaEzel 11 when we first got married thirty-six years ago. As newly married Americans we became close to a lot of the people in our special building but we were especially close to the Schusters. I am not sure how soon after we were married we started our “partnership” with Meir but on most Friday evenings we could usually expect a soft knock on our door and there was Meir, standing there with that shy smile on his face. Next to him was our Shabbos guest(s) newly minted from a visit to the Kosel and an encounter with Meir Schuster, backpacks and all. Sometimes we knew in advance who he was bringing, lots of times we didn’t. But we could always be pretty sure he would be dropping off someone. They always had a story and the stories were usually interesting ones. Our only regret was that we didn’t keep a journal back then of everyone who sat at our Shabbos table courtesy of Meir Schuster.
One summer, Esther – who became our babysitter once we began having children – took a trip to America to see her family. She asked us if Meir could stay by us because they were renting out their apt. We were only too happy to have him. The thing is, we hardly ever saw him. He was out all day and all night – literally – doing his job. One night I had to get up in the middle of the night for one of our kids. It must have been about three o’clock in the morning and on my way to the kitchen I passed by the dining room. There was Meir Schuster bent over the dining room table writing letters. I asked him what he was doing so late at night. He told me he was keeping in touch with kids he had picked up at the Kosel and who now had left to go back to either their kibbutz or ulpan or back home. He said there was no other time in the day for him to do this and it was important for him to keep in touch with them. I am not sure when – or if – he ever slept.
There was also that fateful Pesach… Since we were Americans planning to return to America eventually, we kept a second day of Yom Tov while everyone else in our building only kept one day. We were in the middle of our Yom Tov meal when we heard that a truck had accidentally run over a child down the street from us. That child turned out to be Meir and Esther Schuster’s daughter, Shatzy. I remember sitting frozen in my seat. It couldn’t be. But sadly, it was. Since it was Yom Tov for us, we could not participate in the levaya. During the week of shivah, Meir had two tragedies to deal with. The obvious one – his daughter who had just passed away, the other tragedy – for Meir Schuster – not to be able to go to the Kosel to be mekareiv those kids all week. I think he finally asked a shailah and was told he could go Friday night. He was so totally l’shem shomayim with every fiber of his being. It was precisely that sincerity and simplicity that made him so successful long before all of the great kiruv programs and projects were launched. His whole mahus was kiruv and he is responsible for countless men and women who are leading a life of frumkeit today.
P.S. for Esther: Esther, it seems like yesterday that you were yelling from your mirpesset that we had a call from America – back in the day when we were newlyweds and you were the only ones with a phone! I think about you often and we are davening for Meir. Be in touch if you can! Much love, Sharon and Shragi