Young alumnus perishes in Oakland warehouse fire
By David E. Nathan
Jonathan Bernbaum ’04, a prominent visual artist in the world of electronic dance music, died on Friday night in a fire that broke out during a dance party he was attending at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, California.
Bernbaum, 34, received his bachelor’s degree from Brandeis in May 2004, earning highest honors as a history major. He minored in film studies.
Bernbaum’s family connection to Brandeis runs deep. His mother, Diane Lowe Bernbaum ’67, P'04, and her brother, Ron Lowe ’69, P'05, also graduated from Brandeis, as did two cousins, Michael Lowe ’05 and Renee Heyman Nachbar ’78. Diane, her siblings and their families recently made generous gifts to establish the Miriam and Irving Lowe Scholarship in honor of their parents. Miriam is a life member of the Brandeis National Committee. Irving died in 1999.
“On behalf of the Brandeis community, I want to express my deepest sympathies to Jonathan’s family, friends and fellow alumni,” Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz said. “The tragic circumstances of his death only add to the loss we all feel.”
A longtime friend and classmate remembered Bernbaum as a classic Brandeisian who cared deeply about the world around him, relished debating issues both large and small, and was a dedicated friend.
“Jonathan embodied the core values of Brandeis with an unwavering certainty about himself and his beliefs,” remembered Alex Green ’04. “He was fiercely political, often doctrinaire and a challenging person to go toe-to-toe with in an argument, but he balanced his fierce, unyielding positions with being a deeply conscientious friend.”
When they were Brandeis students, Green recalled engaging in months-long debates with Bernbaum about topics ranging from politics to the appropriateness of particular music used in films. “Jonathan would have seen 40 movies, 10 concerts and 15 art exhibits, and brought those ideas back to you in an argument that you thought had ended a few months earlier,” Green said.
Green met Bernbaum when the two passed in the hallway of the Reitman residence hall while they were freshmen. “We walked by each other and then Jonathan turned around and said, ‘I know you. You gave a speech for the ACLU at Berkeley [when they were both in high school],’ ” Green remembered. “I couldn’t recall anything I said, but Jonathan recited every word of it. That was Jonathan – who listens and remembers like that?”
Bernbaum grew up in Berkeley; graduated from Berkeley High School in 2000; and was a staff member for the school’s student newspaper. After graduating from Brandeis in 2004, he earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2008.
According to YOUREDM, an electronic dance music industry website, Bernbaum worked as a video jockey, mixing lights and video projections for Knife Party, Markus Schulz and other performers.