I am what my husband, the “BT” (Ba’al Teshuvah – returnee to observant Judaism), calls a BTW (“Born That Way” – or, alternatively, a “Ba’alas Teshuvah Wannabe”). I first got to see Reb Meir in action when I worked at Neve Yerushalayim as a tutor and dorm counselor in the summer of 1985. I watched in awe and amazement as G-d’s humble servant brought one unaffiliated Jewish woman after another to the college to sit in on a class or to chat with one of the school’s excellent faculty members. It didn’t matter how these young women were dressed on a hot, Mid-eastern summer day – Reb Meir’s eyes saw only their Yiddishe neshamos (Jewish souls) thirsting for Torah.
To experience Reb Meir’s work as much as a BTW could, I spent a Shabbos at his hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem (before it was the Heritage House) and tagged along with a group of young men and women that he brought to people’s homes for authentic Shabbat meals. Reb Meir’s totally unassuming, non-judgmental, soft-spoken way made this adventure all the more remarkable.
Right after than summer – surely, not coincidentally – I met and subsequently married one of Reb Meir’s former “talmidim” (students). In Bill’s case, back in the summer of 1981, Reb Meir approached him at the Wall and, instead of the usual “Do you have the time?”, Reb Meir asked “Do you want to meet a wise man?”. Intrigued by the question, Bill followed the man up the long, stone stairway from the Wall to the small, cramped office of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, at Yeshivat Aish HaTorah. Two weeks at Aish led to a summer in “Moodus”, a year at Ohr Somayach and a lifetime commitment to Torah study and mitzvah observance.
Fast forward to Summer 2002. Bill and I and our five children were spending a Shabbos in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. As I descended the same long, stone stairway toward the Wall to daven Mincha (say the afternoon prayers) on that warm, peaceful Shabbos day, I could see him down at the plaza. I stood in a time warp. Nothing had changed in 17 years. Reb Meir was still walking, back and forth, back and forth, searching for someone who might “have the time” or “want to meet a wise man”. I felt like running up to him, telling him my story, thanking him for the part he played in my life – but I knew Reb Meir would not want that. I knew he would prefer to just keep on walking, searching, saving souls…
-by Sharon (Novograd) Galkin