By Jess Berk
I still can’t believe she’s gone. For most of my life my entire world has been about engaging in various battles with, for, or about her—so much so, that a film was made about us. “The Genius and the Opera Singer”—shown at Sundance and the Tribeca Film Festival—detailed our nearly lifelong battle with our evil landlord, Lloyd Goldman, and each other. Ruth Berk, would have turned 95 in August. She died after suffering a stroke in Beth Israel on June 8th. She leaves behind myself and my domestic partner Robert Driscoll who inspired her, in her later years, to get back to singing again. During their time together, strolling in the West Village, she became a fixture on the street-singing circuit—performing with Colin Huggins (the Washington Square Park pianist) and various other musicians—frequently breaking into impromptu song at the drop of a hat. After finally being awarded a half-million bucks to vacate our two-bedroom penthouse on Christopher Street she was able to enjoy her victory, confidently basking in the acclaim of neighbors and friends. Born in the Bronx to Mary and Irving Kanarek in 1923, she and her brother Herb (a lawyer) both grew up to be fighters. In fact, Herb went on to sue BLDG Management (a Lloyd Goldman real estate investment firm) for apartment repairs and won big-time (plus legal fees). Never ever give up or stop trying to achieve your goals, she constantly drilled into my head. Plus, always wear red lipstick! After the landlord conspired with APS (Adult Protective Services) to remove her (at gunpoint) from her (SCRIE frozen rent) rent-controlled apartment, she was imprisoned in a nursing home (indefinitely). Thankfully, our amazing District Leader Arthur Schwartz rescued her and restored her tenancy rights, never once asking for compensation. She would often speak of her “two angels”—Arthur and her Chihuahua ANGELINA JOLIE. As I write this, the traditional Jewish week of mourning is nearly over. But how can I possibly stop fighting for justice? Especially for those elderly and disabled folks who continue to be forced out of their homes? See you in court Lloyd Goldman. I’m not through with you yet.