January 18, 2019

USC alum among Oakland warehouse fire victims

Jonathan Bernbaum, one of the 36 victims of the devastating Dec. 2 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, was a 2008 graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

“He was great, he cared, he worked hard, he was opinionated and he was talented,” his former professor, Brenda Goodman, professor of practice of cinematic arts at the School of Cinematic Arts, said in a phone interview. “You can’t ask for better than that.”

Goodman was among those who attended a vigil for Bernbaum, 34, which took place at the USC campus on Dec. 5, according to a USC School of Cinematic Arts spokesperson. About 50 people attended.

Bernbaum was described as a secular Jew by a member of his family in the Northern California Jewish newspaper, j. “Like a lot of secular Jews, he embodied the more charming parts of Judaism: a reverence for learning and community,” the deceased’s brother, David Bernbaum, was quoted as saying in the paper. 

Bernbaum was buried Dec. 12 at Gan Yarok, the Jewish section of Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley, after a funeral held Dec. 11 at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, according to Berkeleyside, an independent news site. 

Raised in Berkeley, the USC alum has been portrayed in news articles since the time of the tragedy as a successful video jockey in the electronic music scene who focused on creating live video art for electronic music acts. He toured with the duo Knife Party and was reportedly creating live visuals for an act at the warehouse at the time of the fire.

“He was a real artist,” Goodman said.

Bernbaum’s family belongs to Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley. His mother, Diane, is the former director of Berkeley Midrasha, a Jewish learning program for East Bay teenagers in eighth through 12th grades. She served there for more than 30 years, j. reported.

None of the family members could be reached immediately for comment.

Rabbi Jennifer Flam, executive director at Berkeley Midrasha, said the deceased’s family members are coping as best they can. “It’s day to day,” Flam, who succeeded Diane Bernbaum in 2014, according to j., said in a phone interview. 

In a Dec. 8 statement, Congregation Netivot Shalom Rabbi Menachem Creditor alerted his community to Bernbaum’s death. “It was with great sadness that we shared the loss of Jonathan Bernbaum, z”l, son of Diane and Ed Bernbaum and brother of David,” stated the rabbi, who could not be reached for further comment.