Judith Berkowitz, Baltimore social worker and social activist, dies

Judith Berkowitz, a former Baltimore City social worker and a social activist, died of multiple myeloma Feb. 11 at her Cheswolde home. She was 89.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., she was the daughter of Isidore Herz, a clothing manufacturer, and Rachel Herz, a homemaker. Her parents were immigrants from near Krakow, Poland.

She was a 1945 graduate of New Utrecht High School and earned a degree in elementary education from Brooklyn College. She then taught at a Brooklyn elementary school.

She met her future husband, Bernard Berkowitz, a city planner who would go on to be president of the Baltimore City Economic Development Corp., on a blind date in 1949.

"As we subsequently dated, we often went to games to see CCNY basketball games at Madison Square Garden," said her husband. "That year of courtship and engagement was one of the happiest of our lives. We didn't have cars or a lot of money, and we traveled by subway and bus. We attended a lot of free films at the Museum of Modern Art."

Her husband said Mrs. Berkowitz was always interested in the civil rights movement and had become a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers after Jackie Robinson began playing for the team.

In 1953, the couple moved to Baltimore and lived on Surrey Drive. Mr. Berkowitz worked for the Housing Bureau of the City Health Department, and he became interested in city planning. They then returned again to New York, where he took additional studies and she raised their two sons.

The family returned to Baltimore in the spring of 1961 when Mr. Berkowitz became a principal planner in the Planning Department. He went on to join the Cabinet of Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

Mrs. Berkowitz began working for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services and was present at the March on Washington in August 1963, where she heard the Rev. Martin Luther King speak.

"Judy was very proud to have been there. She was sympathetic to the needs of low-income and disadvantaged persons," her husband said. "She was also active in women's issues and gay rights."

The family moved to Sulgrave Avenue in Mount Washington in 1967. Mr. and Mrs. Berkowitz lived there for 45 years until moving to Towers Condominiums in Cheswolde.

"Judy was an unpretentious, caring person," said Anne Curran, a friend of many years. "She felt deeply about social justice. She read extensively and liked stimulating conversation on the issues of the day. She followed all the arts — film, dance, music and theater — and was a constant traveler. She was also devoted to her family."

Mrs. Curran recalled one of their trips overseas together, when Mrs. Berkowitz had an encounter with a Romanian border guard who was checking baggage.

"She was a good traveler who could deal with any situation," said Mrs. Curran. "The guard was officious, and it was a jarring experience. Judy was unflustered. To her, it was all an adventure. She rolled with the punches."

Mrs. Berkowitz was a gardener. She also enjoyed taking walks throughout Mount Washington and other neighborhoods, regularly swam at the Mount Washington Swim Club.

"They were a close couple with a lot of deep love," said Felecite Fine, a neighbor. "I admired the huge amount of respect they had for each other. Judy was an intelligent person who read The New York Times from cover to cover."

Mrs. Berkowitz was a member of the Baltimore chapter of the Brandeis University National Women's Committee for many years. She also served as a volunteer at the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.

She retired in 1989.

A memorial service will be held 1:30 p.m. March 5 at the Bolton Street Synagogue, 212 W. Cold Spring Lane, where she was a member.

In addition to her husband of 66 years, survivors include her sons, Stephen Berkowitz of Baltimore and David Berkowitz of Washington, D.C.; a grandson; and a great-grandson.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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