Allyson Gall sometimes imagines what her life would have been like had she not met “a nice Jewish boy named Marty Gall.”
“If I had not met Marty and become Jewish, I would probably be dead — killed as an activist radical Catholic nun in South America or Congo,” she said.
Instead, Gall led a career of nearly 20 years with the American Jewish Committee’s New Jersey Region, and will retire on Dec. 30 after serving as director since 1998.
She will be honored at a private reception at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills on Nov. 16, followed by a speech, which is free and open to the community, by AJC’s executive director, David Harris.
The title of his talk, “Connecting the Dots…Challenges Facing Americans and Jews All Over the World,” could well be a summary of Gall’s activities at AJC, where she championed Israel, battled anti-Semitism, promoted immigration reform, and helped build bridges among Jews and Christians, Muslims, and Latino leaders.
“It has been a privilege and pleasure to be paid to work on issues about which I really care,” she told NJ Jewish News. “But now it is time to move on.”
Gall’s journey from “happy child in a wonderful Catholic family” to Jewish activist began in Meriden, Conn. She and her three brothers attended parochial schools; as an adolescent, she contemplated becoming a nun, “but not one tucked away in a monastery or nunnery,” she said.
Her intent was to join the Maryknoll Sisters and become a doctor in Africa or South America.
But at the age of 15 she met Martin Gall, and her life’s journey changed radically. “By the time I was a senior in high school, we started dating and knew it was serious right away,” she said.
Even as they separated for part of their college years, Gall knew their connection “was bashert,” Yiddish for “meant to be.”
They were married in a civil ceremony at her parents’ home on June 9, 1968 — which was also the national day of mourning following the June 5 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
The couple had agreed that when they had children, they would be brought up Jewish; a few years after they were married, Gall converted.
“It was not easy to tell my parents,” she said. “I did not want them to think that I was not proud to have been brought up Catholic. But once my parents knew, they never looked back.”
With conversion, her involvement in Jewish affairs began growing in intensity. While living in Syracuse, she joined the staff of the Women’s Campaign and Community Relations Committee at the Jewish Federation of Central New York.
When the Gall family relocated to New Jersey, she was hired as assistant director of the AJC NJ office in 1992. When its director, Carol Buglio, retired six years later, Gall succeeded her.
‘A great fit’
Gall said her job has been “a great fit. It is very Jewish, yet very universal in its mission. As Jews we must care about human rights and civil rights for all. As Jews, we should care about the environment, and as Jews, we should care for other Jews, in Argentina, Israel, France, or wherever.”
Throughout her years as an advocate, Gall has never been shy about advertising her concerns by wearing buttons and carrying signs with demands as varied as “Stamp Out Hate” and “No Nukes for Iran.”
Neither has she been reluctant to challenge powerful adversaries — including Presbyterian leaders advocating boycotts against Israel and evangelical Christians enamored of Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ. She boasts of “helping them see the parts we found offensive.”
She formed alliances with Latino advocates of immigration reform, even as she challenged the Jewish community to become more engaged in promoting fair and equitable immigration policies.
“The best part of my job has been working with and befriending other activists from Darfur, Israel, and the immigration community,” Gall said.
She also forged strong relations with Newark’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese and has been in the forefront of dialogues with members of the Muslim communities.
With retirement comes a sense of relief, along with a touch of regret.
“What will I miss the most? The variety and the intensity of the job,” she said. “What will I miss the least? The managing of the office, the reports and fund-raising that takes time that I would rather spend doing the advocacy.”
For the next year, she and Marty will remain in their home in Morristown with their son Ari. There are dancing lessons to be taken, herbs and tomatoes to be grown in the garden, many books to be read, and plenty of cultural interests to pursue.
After Marty retires from a career as a chemist and clinical trial head at Novartis, they plan a move to Massachusetts.
It will put them nearer to their son Yoni and his wife, Judy Nee, as well as their daughter, Rachel, her husband, Jay Wolfe, and two granddaughters, Darwin Anna and Ruby Whey-Lan.
Then there are their plans to go rafting in the Grand Canyon and kayaking through the Galapagos Islands.
“There will be time to be a savta [grandmother], a volunteer, a traveler, and a student again while I am still healthy enough to hike, kayak, and get on the floor with the grandchildren.”
“Life really is a journey,” said Gall. “I must do it!”