UC Berkeley law student Brian Lewinstein dies at 23, remembered for dedication to social justice

Victoria Nauman/Courtesy

UC Berkeley law student Brian Lewinstein, 23, fell from a waterfall in Oregon on Aug. 12, and hikers found his body Thursday.

The accident took place during a trip with his girlfriend, Victoria Nauman, which they’d been planning for a year in advance. On their way back to Berkeley, the two stopped at Toketee Falls to view what Lewinstein referred to as “the waterfall of all waterfalls.”

According to Nauman, Lewinstein veered past safety barriers to see the waterfall from a closer point of view, when he slipped and fell.

Nauman first met Lewinstein while the two studied abroad in Cambridge in between their sophomore and junior years of undergraduate studies. They dated for three years, during which Lewinstein graduated from UCLA two quarters early with a degree in political science. He was accepted into the UC Berkeley School of Law — his dream school, according to Nauman.

“He loved challenging thought and loved political science and the social justice aspect of it,” Nauman said. “As a friend, as a boyfriend and professionally he just had the biggest heart.”

During his undergraduate years at UCLA, Lewinstein tutored a middle school student in math, which fueled his passion for juvenile justice. After his first year at law school, Lewinstein interned at the East Bay Community Law Center, or EBCLC, in the Youth Defender Clinic. At EBCLC, he worked investigating racial disparities in the juvenile delinquent system.

“He felt like he had a lot of advantages growing up,” said Tony Cheng, director of the Youth Defender Clinic at EBCLC and Lewinstein’s supervisor at the clinic. “Working with disadvantaged youth was his way of paying it forward and giving back.”

Even though Nauman and Lewinstein didn’t meet until college, she recalls hearing stories of his childhood brilliance and immense love for baseball — specifically for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The proudest part of our relationship was when I knew a fact about the Dodgers he didn’t,” Nauman said.

Lewinstein grew up in Westwood, Los Angeles, with his mother Felicia Renardo Lewinstein, father Marc Lewinstein and younger sister Jenna Lewinstein. Jenna Lewinstein is currently an undergraduate senior at Scripps College, majoring in political science, following in her brother’s footsteps with a passion for social justice. Marc Lewinstein continues to work as a public defender, something Brian Lewinstein idolized as a child.

The Lewinstein family came together with the Berkeley Law community to celebrate his life last month at a memorial held in Boalt Hall. Berkeley Law spokesperson Michael Bazeley said in an email that Lewinstein will be remembered as a “wonderful, easy-going, funny person who cared deeply about justice.”

To understand all points of view regarding social justice, Nauman said Lewinstein read news daily and was always eager to engage in conversation on current events.

“He was my informant — he would always keep me up to date even when I wouldn’t ask him about things,” Nauman said. “He was going to impact so many people, and that hurts a lot knowing he won’t be able to do that.”

Lewinstein hoped to find his niche in law this school year, with the goal of landing a fellowship after graduation and eventually working for a nonprofit.

His legacy will live on through a newly founded “Equal Justice America Brian Lewinstein Fellowship.”

“His passing has mobilized so many people in his community to be more like him,” Helia Bidad, Lewinstein’s childhood friend, said in a Facebook message. “Minutes after the memorial people were already grappling with how to honor his memory and contribute to positive change within their capacity.”

Contact Rachel Barber and Sabina Mahavni at [email protected].