Joe Lustig was my camper many years ago at Camp Ramah Darom. He and his family survived Hurricane Katrina. He knows what real tragedy is. He knows what it is like to lose part of yourself. This summer, he was one of the madrichim for my son, Elan, who was in the oldest aidah at Ramah Darom. Gesher 11 lost one of its members, Andrew Silvershein, to a tragic accident this summer. I was deeply moved by Joe's farewell note and share it with you with Joe's permission.
Thank you Joe for your powerful words, for your mentschlichkeit, and for being their for all of Gesher 11, my son Elan included.
Due to my bus captainhood I was able to say goodbye to very few of you and a proper goodbye to none of you. So here it is. A disclaimer before I begin: I am beginning this note with absolutely no idea what I'm going to write, so if I ramble I apologize.
"Adversity does not build character, it reveals it" - James Lane Allen
I first heard this quote on a commercial for the American Red Cross encouraging viewers to donate to help rebuild my hometown following Hurricane Katrina. At the time, it didn't make much sense to me. How could people who had lost everything - their homes, their possessions, their cars, and in some cases their family members - be expected to reveal their true character in such tragic circumstances?
Six years later, you all arrived at Camp Ramah Darom, ripe with expectations for the best summer of your lives. Almost immediately, the staff recognized something special about this group. The energy level, the excitement and the enthusiasm were electrifying. By the first Friday night, only three days into Gesher, Jeff acknowledged that he found it very difficult distinguish 1st session campers from 2nd session ones.
Only 48 hours later, your Gesher experience came to a sudden and shocking halt. You were faced with the most difficult, the most unfair, the most tragic circumstances that anyone could've imagined. As I told the boys during peulat banim that night, I thought that was the end of Gesher. I thought many of your parents would want you to come home, and if not, then that many of you would want to go home. As we all know, I was wrong. Gesher 2011 survived. Unbelievably, you decided to go with Yom Sport and CITing as planned.
Then came closing ceremonies. If there's one moment of this summer that I'll never forget, it's when you all got in a circle after a grueling day of sports and ruach, and began to to chant "72 strong." It was in that moment when I realized that James Lane Allen was exactly right. In the face of the most intense adversity imaginable, you all revealed your true character, both as individuals and as a group. You showed your strength, your courage and your resilience. You showed your compassion, your ability to comfort one another, and your leadership. And I've never been prouder of anyone in my life.
This has been a summer full of moments that I'll cherish forever. I'll never forget the laughs and the smiles, the tears of sadness and the tears of joy. I'll never forget the trip or Yom Sport. I'l never forget the flash mobs, the personalized Shabbat-o-grams, the rubik's cubes and the canjam games. I'll never forget all the times you made me feel proud. But most off all, I'll never forget how, under unspeakable circumstances, you all showed how incredible you truly are.
I made my dog tag much later than most of you, and I didn't have much time to think about what to write on the back. I settled on "Gam Ze Yaavor." While I was in Omanut, Alex Wolfson was sitting in the other room, with a siddur, looking for something to write. I gave him some suggestions, none of which seemed to please him. Later, he showed what he ended up writing, and I nearly cried on the spot. It said "Believe in the sun, even when it's not shining." This is the most important lesson I will take from this summer. This summer taught me that people are capable of incredible good, even in the face of unspeakable sadness.
I have one request of you all before I end this farewell: Take to heart whatever lesson you've learned this summer, and in your previous summers at Ramah. I'm sure that for every single one of you that lesson will be different. What the lesson is, isn't important. What is important is that you never forget that lesson, that you take it to heart and that you use it for the rest of your life for the betterment of the Jewish people and the world, because ultimately that's what camp is all about.
Thank you all once again for the most incredible experience of my life. Thank you for being an incredible group of kids that made me proud for 1000 different reasons throughout the summer. Thank you for being without a doubt, the best gesher camp has ever seen. And most of all, thank you for making me able to believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
It occurs to me that, as Boosh beautifully said, this is not goodbye, but rather until we meet again. So, until we meet again, Shine On!
Your Loving Counselor,
Joe "Meltz My Table" Lustig