This remembrance was originally published by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Michael Rothenberg, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2012 at the age of 47, was an inspirational leader in the New York City social justice community.
Michael’s seriousness of purpose about living a life grounded in the principles in which he believed was leavened by a razor sharp wit and penchant for puns. Each year, his introductory remarks at the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest Law and Society luncheon were punctuated by a pun that played on the favor provided for attendees.
He was an accomplished squash player who served as President of the Metropolitan Squash Racquets Association and a member of the Board of Directors of U.S. Squash. He was always available to counsel law students and young lawyers, and constantly making connections for the wide array of individuals in his network.
Michael’s chocolate chip cookies were a much in-demand treat that he could be persuaded to whip up on a moment’s notice. He was a dedicated volunteer at P.S. 8 where his children attended school. Above all else, he was devoted to his family – his wife Zerline and their three children, Brice, Garon and Zaya.
Born in New York City, Michael graduated from Stuyvesant High School, Hamilton College and New York University Law School. Michael’s interest in social justice initially stemmed from observing his highly educated parents struggle to find schooling for his developmentally disabled brother.
His experience as a student activist at Hamilton College cemented his desire to pursue a career in public interest law. Michael led a group of students who erected makeshift shelters on campus to protest the school’s investments in South Africa under apartheid. The college’s attempt to get a federal injunction requiring the shelters be dismantled was foiled by a trio of civil rights attorneys who came to the students’ defense—renowned activist lawyer Victor Rabinowitz; Michael Krinsky, Mr.Rabinowitz’s partner in Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman; and Haywood Burns, who later became the first dean of City University of New York School of Law.
As a law student at NYU, Michael became president of both the Public Interest Law Foundation and Equal Justice Works, an organization devoted to providing funding for public advocacy training to law students across the country. He also was awarded an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program Fellowship as part of a program run by Norman Dorsen, the Frederick I. and Grace A. Stokes Professor of Law, and Sylvia Law, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law, Medicine and Psychiatry.