As a kid, I was inspired by a magnificent Hebrew School Teacher but subsequently landed in an un-inspiring day school which left me in a rather intense love-hate relationship with Judaism. A brief summer Kibbutz stint, however, had me falling completely in love with Eretz Yisroel. After graduating college, I returned to the Land and was sent to a poor back-water town where wonderful Westerners such as myself would help civilize these backward Mid-Eastern natives. (I would later discover that the natives were quite civilized thank you, more than the would-be Western civilizers).
I traveled with a friend to Jerusalem where a non-descript religious man approached us at the Wall and asked if we would like to spend Shabbos with a religious family. Open to anything, I took his number with a promise to let him know. We ended up leaving Jerusalem before Shabbos so that was apparently that.
About six months later, I was back in Jerusalem where about 150 twenty-something volunteers would be spending a week in a luxury hostel participating in a rather unholy seminar about the holy city (i.e. non-stop partying with an occasional tour and class). Early in the week, I was once again at the Wall, where it was déjà vu all over again. The same non-descript religious man again asked me about spending Shabbos with a religious family. I took his number with a promise to let him know.
Frankly, I was having too much fun with the decadence to even consider the likelihood of subjecting myself to proselytizing, and resolved to stay right where I was. But Hashem had other plans. On Thursday of that week we were informed that because of scheduling conflicts, we would be moved to another hostel for Shabbos. Friday morning we walked further and further from the center of town. Eventually, we arrived at our new digs which resembled an army barracks that had sustained several direct hits.
After examining my new lodgings, being informed of the logarithmic number of people that would share one room, and receiving a blank stare when I inquired when meals would be served, I was suddenly filled with religious fervor. I found the nearest phone booth and called my proselytizer, whose name turned out to be Meir Shuster.
As it was late on Erev Shabbos, I was invited to spend Shabbos with Reb Meir’s family. The man was just as I had said – non-descript. There was nothing particularly impressive about him – until I saw him daven. Although the world of charedim was new to me, it was suddenly obvious that he was not a typical charedi – in fact he was not a typical anything. The way he entreated, begged and supplicated his G-d drove home two compelling truths – one, that there is a G-d; two, that this man knew Him well. There was no disconnect between Meir Schuster and Meir Schuster’s beliefs – what he believed, he lived. I was also a bit disconcerted by a suspicion that I might well be one of the subjects on whose behalf he was supplicating the Almighty.
Anyway, Shabbos was pleasant enough. One thing that punctuated it was the appearance of a somewhat indigent looking man on Friday night. He was immediately given a bed (next to mine). Although the proximity made me understandably uncomfortable, my admiration for my hosts was reinforced. We davened at Ohr Someach and somehow Reb Meir got me back there Saturday night for a vort (engagement “party”). But then, Sunday morning he somehow – and I have no idea how because I was most unwilling (must have been the prayers) – got me to go back for a day of classes. The rest, of course, is history.
During my difficult metamorphosis into a Ben-Torah (I hope) R’ Meir was there at every key juncture. Somehow, he always knew when I needed an invitation, or a word of encouragement. I had the z’chus to accompany him to the Kotel where I watched him round up a gaggle of guests, racing ahead at time-warp speeds to find hosts for them, and then meeting us up the road for the next leg of our exciting journey. When my father passed away, Reb Meir’s long, comforting, encouraging letter was the first one that I received. He was always at the Kotel, always at the bus station, and always there for all of us.
I’ve described Reb Meir as non-descript and indeed it is so. The man is very humble and could never sell a used car to anyone. I believe he possesses two utterly outstanding traits: He loves Hashem and he loves Jews. And he is willing to devote every fiber of his being to bringing Hashem and His children together. May he have a Refuah Shlaima so he can continue to do so.