Julius Littman, longtime North Miami Beach councilman, dies

Julius Littman led a life of service -- to veterans, the poor, the hungry, homeless and most notably, the citizens of North Miami Beach.

A New Jersey-born World War II bomber pilot, Littman settled in the Eastern Shores section of North Miami Beach in the 1970s. First elected in 1981, he served on the city council for 22 years.

Littman, known as Jules or Jule, died on Sunday. Daughter Phyllis Diskin said that his health deteriorated after a fall in November.

Born on May 2, 1923, the retired real estate investor was 89. He’d served in Italy during the war, his daughter said, and survived a gunshot wound to the stomach.

The city named the Julius Littman Performing Arts Theatre, 17011 NE 19th Ave., in his honor in 2003.

It had been a seldom-used gym, converted to an arts space with federal money that Littman secured.

Littman followed his brother, Milton, into North Miami Beach government. The city named Milton Littman Park and the Milton Littman Memorial Bridge, to Sunny Isles Beach, for the late councilman and vice mayor, who died in 1977.

The year 2003 saw the end of Littman’s political involvement. Even though he’d run with little or no opposition over the years, he unexpectedly lost that year to a well-financed opponent who outpolled him in absentee ballots.

"I’ve been enriched by my many years as a public servant, and my hope is to move forward with hope and commitment, " Littman said at the time.

Then-Mayor Jeffrey Mishcon lamented: “There is no one on this council that has as many county, state and federal government contacts as Jule."

He remained active as a city liaison to veterans and arts groups. If he had a hobby, his daughter said, it was eating.

“He loved food,’’ she said, and happily judged a Miami Herald “best bagel’’ contest in 1991.

“A Jewish boy cuts his teeth on bagels,’’ be said. Though declaring his preference for chewy bagels, he pronounced “every bagel here...a winner."

Littman was known as outspoken and forceful advocate for causes he held dear, such as an all-wars veterans memorial that the city built as his urging, with state and federal money he secured.

Each Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Littman would preside over ceremonies at the site. He also organized holiday parades in honor of veterans.

Mishcon said after Littman’s death that his old friend “accomplished more in his life for other people than anyone I’ve ever known...He was a big guy who came across as very gruff, but was one of the biggest sweethearts....’’

Despite suffering the rest of his life from frostbite to his feet during the war, Littman was endlessly proud of having served, Mishcon said.

And it was Littman who, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, proposed a monument to the fallen.

“Within 30 days, we had a magnificent marble memorial’’ near the one for veterans, said Mishcon. “The New York Times came down and wrote about it, because it was the first permanent [9-11] memorial in the country.’’

Littman also left a legacy to neighbors: the Eastern Shores Civic Association, which he founded with his late wife, Sherry. The group put up a guard station that increased property values, Mishcon said.

Littman successfully sued Miami-Dade County on behalf of Eastern Shores residents for insufficient emergency services, securing an emergency station in the area.

Late in life, he became involved in establishing the Kaballah Center on Northeast 163rd Street.

Littman worked with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots drive, but was perhaps best known for starting the nonprofit South Florida Food Recovery, a feeding program for the needy.

“Hundreds of thousands of people’’ benefitted from the program, Mishcon said. And Littman worked to keep it running to his last days.

Daughter Phyllis said her dad never forgot being shoved to the end off the mess line in the service because he was Jewish.

She believes that his determination to feed people stemmed from the Jewish people’s history of “being mistreated and denied things.’’

Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman served on the council with Jules Littman, and said he conducted himself “with dignity.’’

Littman “epitomized what public service is,’’ she said. When he called in favors, it was always for someone else’s benefit.’’

“He had such strong convictions and he would be a bulldog when it came to anything for the betterment of the community,’’ daughter Phyllis said. “He didn’t care what anybody thought of him. He wanted the city to safe and beautiful.’’

Littman was divorced, with a son, Gregory, now of California, when he met the former Sherry Lazare, in 1970.

His reign as a local magazine’s “most eligible bachelor of the year’’ ended when they married. She too was divorced, the mother of Phyllis, now of Hollywood, and her brother Paul Levin, of Connecticut.

Tatyana Kats became Littman’s companion after Sherry’s death in 2004, and survives him.

Funeral services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Shalom Memorial Gardens, 15700 NE 18th Ave., North Miami Beach.

The family suggests memorial donations to any organization that cares for the needy.

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