Ilana Kustanowitz

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IMG_7118As I began gathering my thoughts about this moment in my life, what came to mind were the words of Hillel: Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Pirkei Avot, 1:14. Not only was this the chorus of one of my favorite songs at the annual camp Zimriyah, but it was also my high school yearbook quote. As I reflect upon the impact of Ramah on my own personal identity and the importance of a strong, impactful organization in the future, I am again reminded of Hillel’s words.

As I began gathering my thoughts about this moment in my life, what came to mind were the words of Hillel: Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Pirkei Avot, 1:14. Not only was this the chorus of one of my favorite songs at the annual camp Zimriyah, but it was also my high school yearbook quote. As I reflect upon the impact of Ramah on my own personal identity and the importance of a strong, impactful organization in the future, I am again reminded of Hillel’s words.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” I believe that Hillel is suggesting the importance of cultivating one’s own sense of self. Unquestionably, Ramah was the place where I was at my best; where I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Where I (unsuccessfully) attempted to play sports, where I (to the chagrin of others) would sing aloud for our edah’s play, where I cultivated life-long friendships, and where I learned to be a leader.

But if I am only for myself, who am I? As much I loved being a camper, I may have loved being a counselor even more. As Hillel suggested, we cannot simply be for ourselves. As counselors, we emphasized the importance of giving our campers the memories that we had when we were in their shoes. We understood that giving someone else the gift of an incredible summer is often even more gratifying than being on the receiving end of that gift. My counselors and campers – many of whom are here this evening – made me the person that I am today.

If not now, when?” As the past president of the Alumni Association, it was my responsibility to think about the role and function of our alumni body. We had to identify, cultivate and engage future alumni leaders to ensure the strength and rigor of our future. The Hanhallah that I have worked with over the past 4 years has been an incredible team of smart, creative, dedicated and thoughtful individuals, who have put in countless hours programming for our alumni body. Psychologists often say that terminating the therapeutic relationship begins with the first session. With that as my guide, as I assembled my Hanhallah, I promptly began to plan my exit strategy. I needed to find the next president of the Alumni Association, and as you know, we are blessed that Rebecca Kahn, Gesher 97, will be leading the Alumni Association for the next 20 years.

Over the past few years, the Alumni Association has done incredible work. Nothing would have come to fruition without the support of our camp’s director, Rabbi Paul Resnick. Rabbi Resnick has been the biggest champion of the Alumni Association- always willing to meet any of us for dinner on the Upper West Side, supporting our visions and dreams, and providing thoughtful guidance to each endeavor. Paul- thank you for helping us grow, dream, and create.

Thank you to my parents, who in their infinite wisdom, did not bring me home from camp on Visiting Day during my first year Nitzanim summer, despite countless homesick letters. You knew that if I had gone home mid-summer, I may never have returned. You knew what Ramah could provide for me and you wouldn’t let some homesick nights preclude me from having that experience.

Thank you to my in-laws, Shuly, zichrona livracha, and Al Kustanowitz, for sending my beloved Simmy to Ramah. As the story goes, our friendship grew during our summers as counselors together, yet we did not actually begin dating until later. Our Ramah roots are so incredibly strong that together, we have created a new Ramah experience for our family – filled with Labor Day weekends, Purim Carnivals, and lots of brainwashing of our kids that Ramah is the best. We are so proud to be on the famed “Shidduch Wall” at camp- celebrating the great impact Ramah has on finding your bashert.

Most of all, thank you to my fellow alumni. Thank you for loving Ramah as much as I do. Thank you for coming up for Labor Day Weekend because you want to sleep on the camp bunk-beds, swim in the lake, and daven together on Shabbat morning. Thank you for choosing to be involved because you want Ramah to last forever. You want your kids to go there and you want them to love it as much as you did, and as much as you still do. Thank you for feeling close to me, just because we all went to Ramah. Thank you all for being here tonight, celebrating with me.

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