The Bertram’s Story

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I was extremely moved when I recently read the article titled “Reb Meir Schuster: The Man at the Wall.” The article began by stating, “A debilitating illness is crushing Rabbi Meir Schuster physically, but his influence keeps going strong.” I could not agree more with those powerful words, as I too was influenced by this giant of a man. As Purim approaches, I am reminded of the inexplicable chain of events that brought Reb Meir into our lives and family on a personal level.

Several years ago, Reb Meir was on a fundraising trip in the United States. Our family always had an appreciation for kiruv, because we have a cousin that works for Ohr Somayach, and often sends us his “students” when they return to America. We were familiar with Reb Meir’s work and when by chance, he visited our house, we were happy to contribute to his cause. As an afterthought, we asked him what his Purim plans were, as it was obvious he would still be in the States. Surprisingly, but much to our honor, he accepted our invitation to join us for the Purim Seudah.

On Purim, our house always throbbed with the excitement of the day. Our sons’ friends knew that for a combination of delicious food, wine, and the right ruach, 57th Street was the perfect address. At the time, my youngest son was learning in Yeshiva and the house pulsed with the spirit of his wonderful group of friends who had joined us for the seudah.

We were awed when Reb Meir joined us as well. He sat quietly and humbly at the head of the table. Although he absorbed the scene, he was slightly removed as well. Swaying back and forth, and singing hartzig nigunim over and over, he was ensconced in a deep level of dveikus that enveloped us all. To this day, we don’t know why, but since that first Purim Seudah, Reb Meir returned every year to join our family. And every year, we were moved once again by the unassuming and emesdik aura that emanated from him.

Last year, we received an unexpected phone call from the Heritage House. They explained that Reb Meir would be in the States on one of his last trips, and had requested to stay in our home as a guest. We were informed that he was already experiencing the onset of the disease. Of course, we were once again honored to welcome him into our home, this time as an overnight guest.

Even though he was already in the first stages of his illness, to us it was not noticeable. Reb Meir spent several hours in the study, perusing through the many sefarim. He kept mostly to himself, but we were already familiar with his quiet and humble character.

Many people choose to do outreach because their personality is outgoing and suited for the job. Those who knew Reb Meir emphasized how he did not pursue kiruv because it came naturally to him. By nature, he is shy and most uncomfortable in the limelight. Rather, he chose to reach out because he was moved by the dire need of his mission. The clarity of this mission, propelled by Reb Meir’s untainted midas haeemes, is what explains the powerful and never-ending influence he has had on tens and thousands of otherwise lost souls. We feel grateful and humbled that we were granted the opportunity to have our unique relationship with him.