Rabbi Meir Schuster zt”l

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meir-schusterIt is with great sadness that we report the passing of a most remarkable figure in modern Jewish history, Rabbi Meir Schuster zt”l, who was a legend in his time, a man who was a constant, iconic presence at the Kosel for almost forty years, a man who personally and dramatically impacted thousands and thousands of Jewish lives, a man who single-handedly introduced more Jews to Judaism, quite possibly, than anyone else in Jewish history.

Meir Tzvi Schuster was born on January 22, 1943 to Morris and Mary, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Typical of the Jewish experience at the time, young Meir attended public school. At the age of eleven, his parents enrolled him in Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski’s afternoon Hebrew School. Rabbi Twerski took a personal interest in helping Meir catch up to the other students and the two formed a close bond.

After two years, in 1958, Meir went to study at the Yeshiva in Skokie, Illinois – Bais Medrash L’Torah. Two years later, he transferred to Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, Maryland, where Rabbi Schuster stood out as someone who was passionately devoted to Torah study, to tefillah and to mitzvah observance.

Each morning, Reb Meir would wake his fellow students in the dorm, calling out, “Wake up. Wake up. It’s time to serve Hashem!” He was also a talented artist, and together with his friend Chaim Kass, who was a sofer, he created a number of beautiful kesubos.

On Shabbas, Reb Meir spent the entire day studying in the bais medrash with a box of dates or figs at his side. With the exception of davening and Torah discussions, he did not speak – Shabbos was reserved exclusively for spirituality. Rabbi Shlomo Porter, the founder of Etz Chaim in Baltimore, still remembers the intensity with which Reb Meir would recite the Birkas Hamazon after eating. Indeed, anyone who ever saw Rabbi Schuster daven at the Kosel, or anywhere else, couldn’t help but see that he was engaged in an intense, personal encounter with his Creator.

The Kosel

Rabbi Schuster and his Rebbetzin, the former Esther Garfinkle of Monticello, New York, were married in 1967, six months after the Six Day War. Three months later, in March 1968, they went to Israel, for a year of Torah study in the Mir Yeshiva. As if to foreshadow the kind of impact the Schusters would eventually have on so many young Jews, they decided to extend their stay – for four decades. The Schusters settled in the Ezras Torah neighborhood of Yerushalayim and had four children.

Not long after moving to Israel, Rabbi Schuster and his old friend Chaim Kass were at the Kosel where they a saw a young man wearing a backpack who was obviously deeply touched by his encounter with the Wall. Reb Chaim went over to the young man and asked if he would be interested in learning about Judaism, and the young man responded that he was. Unbeknownst to anyone at the moment, that young man who had been moved to tears at the Kosel, represented the beginning of a revolution. For the next two weeks, Reb Meir and Reb Chaim kept returning to the Kosel to try to interest more people in exploring Judaism.

By nature, Rabbi Schuster was particularly quiet and reserved, an introvert not naturally given to conversation, and so Reb Chaim initially did the talking. Within a couple of weeks, however, Rabbi Schuster began to take the lead, and he never, ever looked back.

Rabbi Schuster, in his unassuming yet confident way, would walk up to people and begin by engaging them with the simplest of questions: “Are you Jewish?” “Do you know what time it is?” These questions became doorways to conversations that eventually led to other questions; “Have you ever experienced a Shabbos meal?” “Would you like to meet a wise man?”

And so Rabbi Schuster would meet people – first dozens, then hundreds and eventually thousands – and he would arrange for them to be hosted for a Shabbos meal, or to take their first taste of Judaism at Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somayach, Neve Yerushalayim, Dvar Yerushalayim, the Diaspora Yeshiva or wherever he felt was the appropriate place for that particular young man or woman. For forty years, day in and day out – day after day and night after night – Rabbi Meir Schuster was a fixture at the Kosel.

In time, Friday night and Shabbos at the Kosel became synonymous with Rabbi Meir Schuster. (He was later joined by Jeff Seidel.) All week long, Rabbi Schuster would meet people, and if he couldn’t interest them in studying, he would urge them to meet him back at the Kosel on Friday night so that he could arrange for them to have a Shabbos dinner at someone’s home. And so, every Friday night at the Kosel, after davening was concluded, Rabbi Schuster would round up a handful of people, or a dozen – sometimes, several dozen – and escort them thru the streets of Yerushalayim to families who were awaiting their special guests.

As the years passed, it wasn’t uncommon to see Rabbi Schuster, his son Duvi, and a volunteer or two surrounded by twenty, thirty, forty people waiting to experience Shabbos. Indeed, long before the Internet, almost any young person who was traveling to Israel eventually heard through the grapevine that if they wanted a Shabbos meal in Yerushalayim, all they had to do was hang out at the Kosel and Rabbi Schuster would find them.

Heritage House & Shorashim Heritage Centers

In 1985, Rabbi Schuster founded the Heritage House youth hostel in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim. This was in response to his great pain at meeting young people staying in youth hostels in the Christian and Moslem Quarters of the Old City. He was a tireless visionary who raised all the necessary funds and hired a dedicated and talented staff to transform this new dream into a vibrant reality.

Over the years, Heritage House has provided tens of thousands of visitors with a unique place to stay, and if they choose, to also experience the introduction to Judaism classes, or Shabbos and Yom Tov programs that are available through the Heritage House. Like Rabbi Schuster himself, Heritage House became a Yerushalayim landmark.

But then came the intifada of 2000. The wave of terror attacks almost dried up the number of tourists who were visiting the Kosel. Instead of using this slow period for some much needed rest and relaxation, Rabbi Schuster launched a new, ambitious venture-Shorashim Heritage Centers, for young secular Israelis to learn about their Heritage. The first center was opened in the heart of Yerushalayim’s downtown district, with subsequent centers in Herzaliya, Haifa, Modiin and Pardes Chana. Rabbi Schuster again shouldered the burden of raising all the funds and assembled a team of dynamic educators who speak the language of Israeli youth. Within ten years after opening the first center, over 50,000 young people had their first taste of Jewish wisdom and spirituality in a warm, open, non-threatening atmosphere. To date, through Shorashim, over 300 couples have met, married and begun to build vibrant Jewish families.

His Illness

At the age of 65, still operating with the kind of dauntless energy and determination that would exhaust a young man, Rabbi Schuster suddenly began to exhibit worrisome symptoms. Soon it became clear that something was terribly wrong. Rabbi Schuster was diagnosed with Lewy Body, a disease with debilitating symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The progression of the disease was rapid and debilitating. Yet, true to form, Rabbi Schuster wouldn’t stop. He pushed to his outer most limits and beyond-still seeking out Jews who were estranged from Judaism, still seeking out someone for whom one Shabbos meal could forever change their destiny-until he could push no more.

His Legacy

How many people did Rabbi Schuster introduce to Judaism? How many married a fellow Jew because of his hostels? How many people experienced their only taste of Shabbos because of him? How many people had their first Shabbos and then went on to live rich Jewish lives because of him? How many children and grandchildren of these people are now in Jewish day schools and yeshivos? The number is impossible to know, and the ramifications of all his efforts are literally beyond comprehension.

The levaya will be held today, at 4:15, at Shamgar in Yerushalayim, followed by kevurah on Har Hazeisim.

Yehi zichro boruch.

Shalom Schwartz’s Story:

By Shalom Schwartz

It was February 1974. I was four and a half months into my six month Kibbutz Ulpan program at Ein Dor, a shomer hatzair kibbutz, near Tiberias in northern Israel. I worked extra days on the kibbutz prior to our program’s Jerusalem trip to be able to stay on afterwards in Jerusalem for a long weekend.

The trip included a visit to the Kotel. Everyone was given some time on their own and told when we should return back to the bus to depart. I was not into “holy” places so I checked out the archaeological digs nearby instead, and returned to the bus. We were about to leave and everyone was asked to check if anyone had not yet returned. Sure enough, my roommate was missing so I headed out to the Kotel area to retrieve him.

As I came closer, I saw him in conversation with a tall man in a black hat and suit. I walked behind the man, and signaled my friend that the bus was leaving and that we had to go. Reb Meir turned around and began a conversation.

“Where are you from?”


“Where? Toronto?”

“Yeah, but excuse us we actually have a bus waiting for us; sorry no time to talk.”
I start walking away with my friend. Reb Meir is walking with us.

” Do you know Yeshivas Ner Yisrael?”

“Look, we really have no time for this conversation and besides I didn’t understand those Hebrew words you said.”

“Yeshiva…the Rabbinical College in Toronto…have you been there?”

“No I told you I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have never heard that word “yeshiva”. And we really have to go….”

I start walking away faster. Reb Meir keeps pace.

“It’s on Finch Avenue. Do you know where Finch Avenue is?”

“Yes I do know where Finch Avenue is but that connection really doesn’t make me interested in what you’re selling. We really have to run…..”

“I’m not selling anything. I was just telling your friend that if he was looking for a place to stay in Jerusalem that he could stay for free at a yeshiva and listen to a class or two on Jewish philosophy.”

He now had my attention…I had been planning to stay for a few days in Jerusalem and that morning I had asked at the reception desk of the youth hostel we were staying at if they had room for the coming days. They had said that another group was coming in and there was no room available.

“For free? What’s the catch?”

“No catch; it’s just an opportunity to learn something about Judaism.”

“I’m not interested…we have to run; a whole group of people is waiting for us.
Stop following us, we must go!”

He wrote out his name and phone number and said that I could phone him anytime I like. I cautiously took the paper and quickly boarded the bus with a sigh of relief.

That night, I tried to reach a list of youth hostels to see if they had room. They were either full, their lines were busy, or no one answered. I pulled out the paper I had received and stared at it. I was hesitant but reminded myself that one of the main reasons I had been drawn to Israel was to figure out this Jewish thing. Am I a Jew? What does it mean? Do I want any relationship to this empty religious identity that has been such a confusing burden or choose to finally get rid of it?

I dialed the number.

“Just one class and I can sleep over?”

“Okay. Meet me at 8:45 at Damascus gate tomorrow morning.”


Reb Meir escorted me to a class of Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l who was then Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Samayach. I was shuffled into the class and listened for 2 hours to inspiring wisdom that I never imagined existed in Judaism.

My life had been changed forever.

I spent 3 days being asked probing and challenging questions and asking a few of my own. I decided to go back and then finish my Hebrew Ulpan Program a couple weeks early to invest 2 weeks in figuring out this Jewish thing and then moving on with my travel plans and my life. Reb Meir personally wrote me while I was back on the kibbutz, like a good friend, to make sure I kept my commitment. Two weeks at Ohr Sameyach became 3 months and then seven years at Aish HaTorah.

My parents, my brothers, my family, my wife, my children and grandchildren; my students and students’ students all have enormous gratitude to Rav Meir and his family. I have always stood in awe of his mesirus nefesh for Am Yisrael, and his example of what a caring Jew can accomplish.

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Born to a frum family in New York and seeing him in Shul on Shabbos, I just didn’t appreciate, in my youth, greatness. I am quite overwhelmed now, realizing almost twenty years later that he was a soft, humble giant whose life touched quite possibly thousands of Jews.

  2. BDE

    so sad & tragic. to keep on watching us lose our leaders & guidance who help usmprove our lives & bring people back to Hashem, like Rabbi Schuster Z”TL

    But if we will not start doing teshuva it will just get worse C”V


    May his neshama have an aliya

  3. For those who had the great zechus to know and work with Reb Meir, this is an immeasurable loss. Even though he has not been active for several years, his impact places him in the ranks of other Gedolai Manhegai Yisroel who dedicated their lives and gave up their own Torah and Mitzvos for the sake of the Klal.
    May his sweet memory serve as a model to all of us and may he continue to inspire us to stop using Torah as a shovel to dig with for own aggrandizement, and learn how to delight in the lives of others.

  4. The only statement I will make, being by the Kosel many times, and seeing “his emes in his smile”, was the secret of his succsess, chaval al diavdin, he will be trully missed, but his legacy lives on!!! yehai zichro boruch

  5. Klal Yisrale lost one of the most amazing Tzadikim from the last many years. The Humility the Gentleness the Love the Persistance to spread Hashems Holy Name.
    Woe to Us we lost a great man.
    Al Ze Hayah Daveh Libeinu Al Aila Chashchu Eninanu!!!


  6. I had the zchus to see him daven at the kosel approx. 5 years ago it is a sight I will never forget the way he moved and jumped and literally cried to hashem like a little child to his father

    what is most amazing is that we see what one person can achieve
    people think that the rampant baal tshuvah movement in Israel today is natural
    they don’t realize that it is largely to to reb meir ztl and others like him

  7. Lets get busy Raboisai.

    The least we can do in his zechus is to continue his work.

    Commit this second to e-mail that not-yet frum person and just say “hello”, call him/her to simply say “Good shabbos”, perhaps send a check to Heritage House or do something for Kiruv.

  8. my first real Shabbat was in a home Harav Schuster took me to from the Kotel in 1974,It took awhile, but B”H I’m one of the ones who came to the truth.Rav Meir Schuster ,a true tzaddik,is a great loss for all of Klal Yisrael!!!We all must try to help bring our lost brothers and sisters to Hashem!

  9. Rav Meir zt”l was an extremely shy person. The Talmud mentions that the great Sage Hillel was extremely poor. Despite his situation that could have provided an excuse to not devote his life to Torah, he was moser nefesh and became the great Hillel. The Talmud makes the point that ” Hillel obligates the poor” . We see from Hillel that poverty is not an insurmountable obstacle to becoming a sage. Rav Meir obligates everyone who feels their personality is not suited to reach out to their fellow Jews. Perhaps not only despite his shyness but due to his response with mesirut mefesh overcoming it did Rav Meir achieve his greatness.
    With gratefullness to a great soul
    Shalom Schwartz

  10. Meir Shuster: The Road not Taken

    After college, I moved to France. A wonderful French family essentially adopted me. I relished the loving-acceptance by that family. And just to mention one aspect of living with the Moret-Bailly family the meals were generally 3-4 hours long starting with aperitifs in the small library off from the main dining room which overlooked the forest where Seurat had made his great painting.

    All the while my parents pressured me to visit Israel while in Europe. They even offered me airfare. Eventually I succumbed to pressure and flew to Israel. It had been getting chilly in Europe. At least I could avoid the winter’s cold for that year. Other than that, I had no intent of visiting Israel. I had loved Israel as a child and I did well in studying Hebrew at my shul on the South Side of Chicago, but when we moved too a Tony North Shore suburb, not only did I not fit in, but that I had a horrible two years in my new Hebrew school. I always thought the mistake was of one teacher who treated me poorly. I was about a year behind the other students in my class. That teacher should have moved me to a lower year. Instead, he placed me in the back of the class and treated me as an idiot. My fellow students picked up on his abuse, and they too joined in with the hatred and abuse.

    I came to hate Judaism from that. Plus, I was being abused at home. I became very ill with depression and ptsd. That has devastated my life.

    So there I was in Israel avoiding the winter in France. My desire to learn French had been thwarted. I was in a country only because of my parents. I toured around but couldn’t wait to return to Europe.

    And then I went to the kotel. I did not know what the kotel was. I saw some police baracades blocking a stairway. So I had to find out what the police did not want me to see. It was the temple mount though I knew not what that was. I wandered around the mount. I even sa a an Arab mosque and debated entering. (I am glad I did not enter for that mosque was the dome of the Rock. Had I entered, who knows? I may have caused an international incident). I sat on the Temple Mount, and meditated it being a beautiful sunny day. And then I left.

    Next I found myself in front of the kotel. It just looked like a big old wall. I was getting ready to leave when Meir Shuster called out to me with a question. I was wary of him for maybe he was going to be real friendly and then ask for some money. No thank you.

    But instead the Rabbi drew me into a conversation and in the end, he walked me over to Aish haTorah where I attended a class and later I did shabbos in Meah Shearim.

    The class did not work out well for me. The teacher their raised his voice at one of the students. I know not why he raised his voice but that triggered me ptsd. I am non-violent. So I just dissociated for several days. Much of everything was lost to me after that including my Meah Shearim stay except for two things.

    The warmth of acceptance by the Jewish family, and that wonderful shabbos meal. And remembrance of Meir Shuster who created a feeling of acceptance in me which I had long yearned.

    The experience really should have not stayed with me for it was so small and I have had more thrills in my life such as even of forming a band on my kibbutz (I played drums) and that the kibbutz lent is a bus through which we provided live music for the kibbutz around us. We called our band Willie and the Gaza Strippers.

    Still, Meir Shuster’s name stuck and I always regretted not having taken classes at Aish Hatorah.

    And like the mite of dust which forms a pearl, eventually I returned Judaism and studying it. I found that Judaism was very much in line with my valuing rational inquiry though that term sounds so cold, and that Judaism is about compassion and compassionate ways of doing things. That after all had been what drew me to the hippie movement and The Grateful Dead after I had left Judaism when younger.

    I credit this to Meir Shuster and his just simply talking to me. Of course I should credit Hashem and my parents in this, but I wanted to honor Meir Shuster in this for the difference he made in my life.


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