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February 17, 2014

Baruch Dayan HaEmet: Rabbi Meir Schuster

Rabbi Meir Schuster, sheyichyeRabbi Meir Schuster, who spent decades searching out young non-Orthodox (or, sometimes, Modern Orthodox) Jews at places like the Kotel (Western Wall) and trying to get them to sit in on classes at Ohr Somayach, Aish HaTorah, Neve Yerushalayim or other smaller ba'al teshuva (missionary outreach) yeshivas and seminaries passed away today.

Rabbi Meir Schuster, sheyichye

Rabbi Meir Schuster was a true believer. In fact, he was the true believer's true believer, a man who was so consumed with his missionary activity that he barely slept and spent almost no time with his own family.

The American born Schuster, who spent decades searching out young non-Orthodox (or, sometimes, Modern Orthodox) Jews at places like the Kotel (Western Wall) and trying to get them to sit in on classes at Ohr Somayach, Aish HaTorah, Neve Yerushalayim or other smaller ba'al teshuva (missionary outreach) yeshivas and seminaries passed away today.

Schuster founded and led the Heritage House youth hostels in Jerusalem's Old City, places where almost any non-Orthodox Jew (and some Modern Orthodox Jews) could stay for free six days a week. The only cost was sitting in on a class or two in the hostel and/or at a local ba'al teshuva yeshiva or seminary. (To stay for Shabbat cost a modest amount of money, but that bought you two home cooked meals with haredi families and a third meal Shabbat afternoon in the hostel.)

Schuster spent so little time with his own family the joke (which really could have been true) was that he came home late one night from "schlepping" non-Orthodox college students at the Kotel and saw a strange young man in his kitchen. "Who are you?" Schuster asked. "Abba, it's me. Dovid, your son," the young man answered. In the days that joke was written, Dovid still lived at home.

I dislike much about what Schuster did with his life because I dislike and oppose kiruv manipulation and the idea that the ends justify the means. They don't.

But Schuster did what he did honestly, in the sense he truly believed in what he did and gave it his all, 24/7, week after week, month after month, year after year. There was no separate public Meir Schuster and private Meir Schuster. There was just one Meir Schuster and he was always on, always working, always thinking of himself last and his own family second to last.

Other people in the kiruv business grow to head large organizations and spend much of their time in their office and fundraising and little, if any, actual time doing kiruv.

Schuster had a large organization but he spent almost no time in its – or in any other – office. (I worked for him for about a year, doing advertising, public relations and serving as the men's hostel's night manager, so I can attest to this personally.) Schuster spent all day (and large parts of many nights) on his feet at the Kotel, on Ben Yehuda Street, or wherever young non-Orthodox English speaking Jews were likely to be. When he found these "kids" (as they were known in the business), he didn't pretend to be one of them. He wore his dusty black hat and his dark (pinstripped, if I recall) suit. He was always a rabbi, even when and where being a rabbi was not cool.

The people Schuster hired to run his organization couldn't keep it up after Schuster fell ill with Lewy Body Dementia, and the organization crumbled. Maybe that's becuase for most of them, kiruv was a job first and foremost. They weren't true believers, they were technocrats, and without the often naive and trusting Schuster, they couldn't survive as an organization.

Haredi kiruv is a bad thing. But among its practitioners, Meir Schuster was both a pioneer and (basic kiruv manipulations aside) an upright man, a person who truly believed with all his heart and soul in what he was doing and how he was doing it.

If I had to sum up Schuster's life in a brief sentence I would say this: Meir Schuster wanted Jews to be Jews and he wanted all Jews to study Torah and do mitzvot; for him, beyond this there really was nothing else.

This isn't good and it may not even have been sane.

But among the thousands of kiruv practitioners, Schuster was the real deal. In fact, he might have been the only one.

Comments

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I was going to ask you about him. I went to YWN this morning to look at the comments beneath that Hadassah Hospital article, and I saw their article about Schuster. I'd never heard of him before.

"Meir Schuster wanted Jews to be Jews and he wanted all Jews to study Torah and do mitzvot; for him, beyond this there really was nothing else.

"This isn't good and it may not even have been sane."

I agree, but I guess it's nice to know there was at least one man of integrity in the field.

I can't really respect a man who neglects his family, though, and certainly not for missionary activity, which I'm convinced is a form of obsession.

"a man who was so consumed with his missionary activity that he barely slept and spent almost no time with his own family."

In Scotty's bubble it is a BAD thing to be consumed with the positive attributes of halachic Judaism but a GOOD thing to fanatically blog against it virtually all the time while holding yourself incommunicado from the outside world

http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2010/01/09/us/09religion01.html

save the occasional punch into his friend Everlast.

Where you friendly with Meir?
I believe that he himself was either Modern Orthodox or a Bal Teshuva.I don't know, though.
Can you tell us some more about him?

I had some brief encounters with Rabbi Schuster a few decades ago. Regardless of my personal opinions about kiruv work, he was a lovely man with a gentle soul...

@context

You'd have been better served keeping your mouth shut and letting us assume you were an idiot than to post what you did and remove all doubt.

It is clear from what Shmarya wrote that he held Rabbi Schuster in the highest of regard - and that while he is in general opposed to Haredi kiruv, he is opening willing to accept and state that as practiced by R. Schuster.......it's a totally different thing.

It is mind boggling how you morons stream on here accusing the local population of blind hatred - while exposing your own with every word.

What would be interesting would be an essay from Shmarya as to WHY he believes that kiruv is not a good thing.

Rebitz,

You must have read a different essay than the one that Shmarya wrote here where he badmouthed a rabbi you laughably claim Shmarya holds in the "highest regard" as allegedly: "consumed", neglectful of his own family, unkept, "manipulative" and possibly not sane.

As far as possibly not sane, it should be investigated what happens to a blogger who holes up almost 24/7 to churn out ill feelings against Jews, ritual slaughter, circumcision, Torah study, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cast_Away#Wilson_the_volleyball

Does he start confiding in his friend Everlast like Tom Hanks did in Castaway with "Wilson"?

he was a gentle and very very kind person

Shmarya,
Thank you for the moving tribute to this man. I had heard a story that they could not physically restrain him during shiva because he wanted to go back to the wall. The man was driven and a force. He outlasted the Baruch Levines, Jeff Seidels and the others. And he was a true believer.

Baruch Dayan Emet,

this is a beautiful and honest tribute.

Thank you shmarya for the well written and from the heart tribute.

To all the people who don't like shmarya and his blog - solution :

Don't read this blog. - it's not for you. You haven't matured yet to be able to comprehend this blog.

I used to know a Jeff Seidel. What is his relevance to this discussion? Was he a kiruv guy? When I knew him he was a student at a yeshiva in Baltimore. From Seattle if I remember correctly.

Thank you Ramapo Bob for the question and now I'll proceed to answer it. Meir Schuster worked together with Jeff seidel who runs something called the Jewish student Information Center. This organization is merely a subterfuge for getting people into Yeshivas like Ohr Sameach and Aish Hatorah. Seidel himself is a gay rodent who refers to the Holy Kotel as "the wall". Schuster himself was questionable if only because of his link to Seidel. Seidel is not religious at all himself and has ties to the Israeli Mafia. He gets perverse joy out of his attempts to get secular kids interested in Torah learning. He is a fraud, and Schuster may not have been the Zaddik people are saying he is.

Iu didn't realize that Seidel was no longer running his fake organization, but I am sure he is doing something like cleaning cow dung off the fences of some refet on a non-religious Kibbutz. As for Schuster, I got that famouns tap on the shoulder and when I turned around I saw a man all dressed in a black frock and it was a little scary. Judaism is not supposed to pull you away from a religious experience into something that is less religious. We are supposed to go from strengh to strengh. Free Torah classes are nice. But people should be allowed to have their own religious experiences undisturbed. May he rest in peace.

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