Bittersweet return for 50th Reunion attendee

Jonathan Bernbaum '04 died in a warehouse fire in December 2016.

By David E. Nathan

For Diane Lowe Bernbaum ’67, P’04, Reunion 2017 produced feelings of both joy and sadness.

She relished the chance to return to Brandeis, both to join classmates in celebrating their 50th Reunion and to honor the memory of her son Jonathan ’04, who died in last year’s tragic warehouse fire in Oakland, California.

“Being on campus this weekend gave me so many opportunities to think about Jonathan,” Diane says. “My classmates were very kind at expressing condolences and finding out more about him.”

Diane made a few visits to the Shapiro Campus Center to view the panorama portrait of the Class of 2004 that was taken at her son’s Orientation in the fall of 2000.

She also spent time with Michael Willrich, the Leff Families Professor of History, one of Jonathan’s favorite faculty members. When he learned of Jonathan’s death, Willrich sent a warm condolence letter to the family, along with a copy of the recommendation he had written to accompany Jonathan’s successful application to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

“I was amazed both when I read the letter and when I met with Professor Willrich to see how well he knew Jonathan,” Diane says. “It was clear how much Professor Willrich appreciated Jonathan as a student, especially since they both arrived at Brandeis around the same time.”

During their weekend meeting, Willrich spoke to Diane in detail about Jonathan’s senior thesis and his contributions to class discussions. Jonathan graduated with highest honors in history. As a history major herself, Diane appreciated the opportunity to visit Olin-Sang American Civilization Center and reminisce about history faculty with Willrich.

Jonathan was one of 36 people who died on Dec. 2, 2016, when a fire broke out during a dance party he was attending at the Ghost Ship warehouse. The Berkeley native was a video jockey in the world of electronic dance music, mixing lights and video projections for Knife Party, Markus Schulz and other performers.

The Bernbaum family has a deep connection to Brandeis. In addition to Diane and Jonathan, Diane’s brother, Ron Lowe ’69, P'05, also graduated from Brandeis, as did Ron’s son, Michael Lowe ’05, and their cousin Renee Heyman Nachbar ’78. The family made generous gifts to establish the Miriam and Irving Lowe Scholarship in honor of Jonathan’s grandparents. Miriam is a life member of the Brandeis National Committee. Irving died in 1999.

Categories: Reunion, Alumni Profile
Date: June 13, 2017