When thinking about her late husband Neil Berlin, Alicia Berlin remembers a man who allowed his personality to shine through in his work for the Jewish camp he loved.
Neil Berlin, who died Feb. 25 at 44 years old, had previously been the director of operations at Camps Airy and Louise. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in May of 2017.
“All of the kids and staff knew him because he was the guy who drove the golf cart a little bit too fast around camp. He ran game shows in camp all the time. … He had cameos in our big shows at camp and would always wear goofy costumes and have some scene where he would make a fool of himself,” says Alicia Berlin, director of Camp Louise.
“And that, I think, spoke to who he was, and spoke to so many people coming to the funeral and so many people reaching out recently,” continues Alicia, a resident of Owings Mills and member of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore.
Neil Berlin grew up in Pikesville and served as a bar mitzvah tutor at Beth El Congregation of Baltimore, says Alicia. When he was young, he attended Camp Airy as a camper, later becoming a counselor.
“We always tried to make sure that he had the values of being a good person, and working to help others,” says Neil’s father, Dr. Steven Berlin, who lives in Pikesville with his wife and Berlin’s mother, Sherry Berlin. “Jewish life was important to us growing up, to instill in him and his sister, and that you don’t look just to help yourself, but you look to help other people around you become better people.”
After graduating from Pikesville High School, Neil attended undergrad at Duke University and then went to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate school.
He worked for a number of years as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and then later for IBM, says Alicia.
He normally found ways to keep working in some capacity at Camps Airy and Louise, including as a volunteer during the summer, until he began working there full time in 2015 as its director of operations. In that capacity he handled many of the camp’s backend responsibilities, including helping families with financial aid and helping to guide the camp through the pandemic. After the outbreak of COVID-19, Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Neil to serve on a Maryland youth camp safety advisory council, working to help all of Maryland’s camps prepare to reopen in 2021.
“He loved camp, fiercely, with a passion,” Alicia says.
While they had previously been friends, Neil and Alicia began dating in 2003, she said. She noted that they had similar values regarding Judaism and the importance of family. And of course they shared a passion for camp.
“Neil was full of life, life of the party, energetic, detail-oriented, organized in his own unique way,” Alicia says. She added that he was also funny and optimistic.
Neil was also a very involved father to his daughters Hannah and Marissa, 14-year-old twins, and Ellie, 13, says Alicia. He could usually be heard cheering rather loudly at any of their sports games, and he took their Jewish education very serious, working to instill in them an appreciation for Jewish traditions. Neil and his family would have dinner together every night, and have Shabbat together every week, Alicia says.
Neil was also fond of dad jokes. “Whenever [we were] at the doctor’s, we’d say ‘How’s your hearing?’” Alicia says. “His answer was always ‘What?’” For Chanukah he would commonly receive a dad-joke calendar, and he made sure to share its humor with his daughters.
When asked what she most wanted people to know about her son, Sherry spoke on how, during his cancer treatment, he directed his own care, and that “he fought a really courageous, brave, valiant, dignified fight. … He was his best advocate.”
“He taught everyone around him how important it was to be your own advocate, and to stand up for yourself,” Dr. Steven Berlin adds.
Neil is survived by his wife Alicia (née Block); children Hannah, Marissa and Ellie Berlin; parents Dr. Steven Berlin and Sherry Berlin (née Norwitz); father-in-law Robert Block; sister Beth (Matt) Cohen; sister-in-law Nadine (Henry) Rosendale; and nieces and nephew Avery, Micah and Harper. He was predeceased by his mother-in-law, Joan Block.
This story was originally published in the Baltimore Jewish Times.