Remembering Gail Littman

When I first joined the URJ, Gail Littman, as Chair of the North American Camping Committee (NAC), introduced me to the Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional BoardsThe list included things like being mission driven, focusing on building constructive partnerships, thinking strategically, creating a culture of inquiry, and the like. I quickly learned the bullets were not clichés for Gail. She more than lived her principles. She lent her guidance, intelligence and grace to our camp and Israel programs and we benefited tremendously. It is with a heavy heart that the Reform Movement remembers Gail Littman, former Camp Newman and NAC Chair, who died of a heart attack on the morning of December 21, 2012.

Gail was a pivotal member of the leadership team responsible for the excellence of our 13 summer camps and Israel programs. Her dedication to Reform camping ignited love of Judaism and community in the hearts of hundreds of children. Here, leaders of our camping system and the Reform Movement remember Gail for the kind-hearted friend and visionary she was.

From Raymond Capelouto, former NAC Chair:

I first met Gail and got to know her mostly through our shared passion for our URJ Camping and Israel Programs. As vice chair to Gail during her tenure as Chair of the North American Camp Committee, I quickly realized how perfectly Gail melded her deep love of children and Jewish camping with her remarkable foresight and vision to help our camps grow and prosper, in both quantity and quality. Gail knew that the success of our camps would always be central to the prosperity of Reform Judaism as a whole, and she made sure that those around her understood that as well, and acted accordingly. For me and so many others in our special, joyous world of Jewish kids having the greatest summer of their lives, Gail was a role model in ever sense of the word.

Gail’s dedicated service to the Reform Movement came at the predictable cost of time away from loved ones, especially from her beloved Marshall. Gail, and Marshall too, understood and accepted this as one of the burdens that accompanied the mitzvah of leadership. Marshall, we are grateful for your sharing so much of your beloved Gail with us.

Gail, you were taken from us far too soon. We will never forget all that you did to make our young people stronger in and more committed to their Judaism, and the example of leadership that you set for us.

We will miss you greatly.

From Ruben Arquilevich, director of Camp Newman:

Gail was a friend, a great leader of Camp Newman and a visionary for the Jewish people.  She, Marshall and Rebecca helped to welcome our first born son, Jonah, into this world almost 15 years ago. Around this time, Gail became a close friend while she served and led the Camp Newman board. I recall her loving guidance and warmth as I became a father, and that was the foundation of our friendship for a lifetime. “The apple does not fall far from tree” – Rebecca, when she was 10 years old, made a Mezuzah for our son’s bedroom. This was just one of the numerous touches that Gail, through her self and her family, added sweetness to our lives.   Gail was a gem of a partner in her role as Camp Newman board chair, leading with calm, kindness, conviction and wisdom. She helped to lead camp to its current standards of excellence.    The most meaningful symbol of Gail for me is the quote she and Marshall chose on their plaque, standing at a site they gifted at Camp: From Talmud, “The prophet Elijah will turn the hearts of the parents toward their children and the heart of the children toward their parents.” Gail, today our hearts are broken. Will miss you and we will continue your holy work.

From Miriam Chilton, Director of Strategic Planning, Operations and Finance for Camping, Israel and Youth Programs:

My family just spent the day on top of Masada.  Gail was there – not because of the godly beauty of the view nor the importance of the place but because of her fortitude and surety, especially when it came to her leadership of Jewish camping – even more so for URJ camping.  Gail gave of herself and leant her advocacy and leadership to the benefit of thousands of young people.  She knew what our camp and Israel programs needed and guided them with fortitude and surety. I counted her as a friend, a mentor and a leader. Her legacy will live on in the smiles and happiness of generations of children. We were blessed to have walked alongside her.

From Paul Reichenbach, Director of Camping and Israel Programs:

B’shert is a term often used to describe the bringing together of two people, with God’s blessing and intention..something meant to be. Gail and Marshall have always represented to me what marriage, partnership and “acts of loving kindness” are about. Their wonderful lives together and their commitment  Judaism and the Jewish people movingly defined the essence of who they are . In so many ways, Rebecca was at the center of their passion for Reform Judaism. Rebecca’s joy of discovery, friends and the loving community of Camp Newman inspired Gail and Marshall to deepen their own passion and to dedicate themselves to building camps for living Judaism across North America. No one will question that Gail was the right person at the right time to become the leader of the NAC…our network of 13 URJ camps. Under her thoughtful and deliberate leadership, complimented by her extraordinary skill, millions were raised to renew our Movement’s most precious possessions.  Gail believed that every child had the right and expectation to attend warm and welcoming camps that exemplified excellence in every realm. She would not have it any other way. I was blessed to have Gail as a partner and dear friend on this extraordinary journey. My life, personal and professional, were elevated because of Gail. Our camp directors adored her because of her insight, commitment and the respect she had for their devotion.

Gail’s life has been for us and will continue to be a blessing.

From Temple Adat Shalom’s Rabbi David Castiglione:

Gail was a tremendous inspiration for good across our community.   Her gifts of love and support, of dedication and tireless effort, have literally touched thousands and made each of us, individually and communally, stronger, richer and most enduringly, blessed.  May God embrace her beautiful soul, though taken too soon.  May God comfort her loved ones as they journey the days ahead.