Another personal story: I met him in 1984, shortly after making aliyah after having return to the Orthodox Jewish life in which I grew up. I had never been to Israel when I moved here, and knew zilch about Israeli society and about Jerusalem. I stayed at the Heritage House simply because it was a convenient place for sleeping and eating and being introduced to families who hosted backpackers, although I was not one of them.
Thank God, I insisted on paying for my stay although Rabbi Schuster and Jeff Seidel said there was no need to do so. I made sure I was not taking the place of someone who really needed to be there. They did chesed for me, and their kindness gave me the opportunity I otherwise never would have had to meet Haredi families for a Shabbat dinner.
At the Heritage House, I met Jews with stories like Reuven, quoted above, who came to the Kotel with no Jewish upbringing and turned to Torah, thanks to Rabbi Schuster.
He was born in Milwaukee almost exactly 71 years ago. He attended public school until the age of 11, when his parents sent him to the traditional “afternoon Hebrew school” during the week.
Rabbi Schuster was drawn to the study of Torah and learned at the Skokie, Illinois yeshiva and later at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.
He and wife married in late 1967 and moved to Israel three months later for a year, which turned into decades.
Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf wrote that Rabbi Schuster and a friend were at the Western Wall one day when they saw a backpacker who was obviously moved by the Western Wall.
Rabbi Schuster approached him and asked him if he would like to learn Torah, and the youth responded in the affirmative. That was the beginning of nearly four decades of Rabbi Schuster’s dedication to showing youth the Light of the Torah.
Rabbi Schuster took the backpackers to meals and for a bit of Torah study at Aish HaTorah, Ohr Samayach, Neve Yerushalayim and the Dvar Yerushalayim, the Diaspora Yeshiva.
Thanks to Rabbi Schuster, I visited all of those yeshivas – the first time in my life I ever entered a yeshiva.
Following his success with the Heritage House, Rabbi Schuster founded the Shorashim Heritage Centers in several cities in Israel, providing Torah studies to lost youth on a level they could understand.
Six years ago, Rabbi Schuster was diagnosed as having Lewy Body, a disease with debilitating symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, according to Rabbi Apisdorf.
I had forgotten about my experience at the Heritage House and my encounters with Rabbi Schuster until I heard of his passing a couple of hours ago.
I will never forget again.