Celebrating the Life of
Bonnie J. Berger
Apr 10, 1955- Aug 14, 2020
The Virtual Celebration of Life for
Bonnie J. Berger
from Thursday, February 11, 2021
7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
100,000 Angels featuring Natalie Toro
Reverend Bonnie J. Berger (4/10/1955 – 08/14/2020) was a human rights advocate and a highly accomplished interfaith clergywoman, wedding officiant, musician, trainer, speaker, and activist. She was a powerful spiritual figure who was devoted to healing the collective residuals of poverty, trauma, misogyny, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, anti LGBTQ bias, and racism. Her life’s journey grew from front-line activism and community organizing into a powerful ministry devoted to uniting and transforming people through love. She had a courageous, playful, and spirited zeal for life, was deeply curious about people, and unafraid to explore new places and experiences.
As an Ohio native, Bonnie was a proud alumna of Kent State University, graduating with a Bachelor of General Studies in Sociology/Psychology in 1978. Her arrival to Kent State as a student after the May 4 massacre ignited her strong political activism. At Kent State, she pursued graduate coursework in women’s counseling, cultural diversity, and interpersonal competencies in educational leadership. Her interest in leadership and organizational consulting led her to attain a certificate in Organizational Development from Georgetown University.
For over 20 years, she devoted herself to building bridges of understanding and acceptance between diverse communities as a trainer and consultant. As the Manager for Diversity Initiatives at the American Association of University Women, she was instrumental in changing the organizational culture towards increased racial and cultural diversity. In 1992, she established her own consulting firm, Bonnie J. Berger and Associates, which specialized in diversity awareness training, retreat facilitation, workshops, team building, board development, and other services aimed at increasing organizational effectiveness. Bonnie supported thousands of people and numerous organizations in addressing some of their most challenging diversity issues. Her clients included several local and federal governmental agencies, as well as many professional institutions and organizations. She also provided training and instruction for the Montgomery College Workforce Diversity Institute and the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith.
Bonnie was an unwavering advocate and passionate community leader for Montgomery County citizens, consistently raising awareness to issues of injustice. She founded the Gay and Lesbian Consortium (GLIC) and co-chaired Maryland’s Free State Justice Campaign. With tact and resolve, she worked to secure statewide non-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community. Under her direction, she led the County Council to remove anti-gay amendments from the County’s civil rights code and to ratify domestic partnership benefits. A spirited community organizer, she was instrumental in creating Montgomery County’s first Gay and Lesbian Pride Day. Bonnie maintained active community involvement as a member of several organizations, including: Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, Montgomery County Committee on Hate/Violence, Montgomery County Police Chief’s Advisory Council, and the Montgomery County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she served as a board member. She was a graduate of Leadership Montgomery, an organization that connects and trains leaders in Montgomery County.
In honor of the profound impact that her political work had on the community, Bonnie was among the inaugural group of twenty Montgomery County residents to be inducted into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame in 2001. Her inductee biography includes a quote from The Passages Conference, which identifies her as “almost single-handedly improving the political climate for lesbians and gay men in the greater Washington area.” In 2013, Bonnie was one of twenty LGBT Montgomery County residents to be featured in a special exhibit, Portraits of Life: LGBT Stories of Being, which acknowledged her dedication to improving people’s quality of life in Montgomery County, MD. In continued recognition of her outstanding leadership, DC Tagg Magazine honored Bonnie as one of their Enterprising Women of 2016.
After decades of activism and community organizing, Bonnie followed a yearning to turn towards deep spiritual engagement and exploration. This seeking led her to study the Jewish scripture with Rabbi Tamara Miller, where she sought to bridge her ancestral Jewish tradition with her understanding of Metaphysics. Under the mentorship of Rabbi Tamara, Bonnie became a skilled hospital chaplain. For several years, she served as the chaplain in George Washington University Hospital’s Emergency Department. Never shrinking from a challenge, Bonnie became a “front-line spiritual worker,” providing compassionate spiritual care to numerous families and patients in crisis.
Bonnie continued her spiritual study in 2003 at Iyanla Vanzant’s Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development. She endearingly called this two-year intensive program “spiritual bootcamp” and attributed it to helping her transform her fear into love. The spiritual call on her life also led her to attend The New Seminary (TNS) for Interfaith Studies, as an accelerated student. In 2006, she was ordained as an Interfaith minister. During this time in seminary, Bonnie met the love of her life and life partner, which she maintained was part of a marvelous “hidden agenda” of the curriculum. As an Interfaith minister, Rev. Bonnie served as a community member, supporter, and Associate Minister for the Takoma Park Metaphysical Chapel, under the loving tutelage of Reverend Jim Webb. She brought a bright and loving spirit to the chapel community. Her sermons were always known for being humorous and accessible. A gifted orator and teacher, she turned abstract spiritual concepts into lived practical applications.
The advocacy that defined her earlier work became integral to her ministry and as an Interfaith minister she pioneered marriage equality. As perhaps one of her most notable contributions, Rev. Bonnie officiated at the first public same-sex marriage in the United States, after it was legalized in Washington DC in March 2010. She subsequently performed over 700 wedding ceremonies for couples that traveled nationally (and internationally) to be married in DC by her. She was a well-loved, top-rated officiant, with countless testimonials speaking to her calm, humor, gratitude and professionalism. Rev. Bonnie liked to say that she was “egalitarian in love” and performed weddings that were gay and straight, secular and religious. Her life’s work of championing equality and bridging community provided the foundation to this powerful and brave ministry of uniting people in love. In 2016, TNS awarded her the Rabbi Joseph Gelberman Alumni Award for Outstanding Ministry and Service.
Rev. Bonnie’s life passions also included music, having studied and played clarinet most of her life. She was awarded first chair, clarinet, at Beachwood High School’s orchestra, and was made President of Band Club. Her love of music continued throughout her life. She designed and coordinated a volunteer management program for Sisterfire and actively promoted women’s music through the 1980’s. Rev. Bonnie’s love of the Arts continued through her involvement as a staff member in two prominent DC theaters. She served as the House Manager for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Theater J (located at the EDCJCC). In later years, she supported and enjoyed the arts as a volunteer usher at PlayMakers Repertory Company and The Arts Center in North Carolina, where she resided for the final years of her life.
On August 14, 2020, while held gently in the arms of her beloved, Reverend Bonnie J. Berger walked peacefully into the Divine light.
Rev. Bonnie is survived by her devoted and loving partner, Reverend Dr. Rosemarie Palladino.
She was stepmother to Aimee Palladino and her husband, Rafael Martinez; Michael Palladino and his wife, Paige Pascarelli; Arielle (nee Palladino) and her husband, David Ballard and Alexis Palladino and her fiancé, Pierce Few.
She was the beloved “Baya” to Sebastian Kai and Caroline Lee.
Rev. Bonnie was the granddaughter of Belle Jean (nee Gold) and David Benjamin and Ida (nee Solomon) and Samuel Berger.
She was the daughter of Sanford Jason Berger and Bertine Mae (nee Benjamin) Berger, and sister of Bradley Berger and his wife, Deborah.
She was aunt to Jessica Berger and Abby Jacobs (nee Berger) and her husband, TJ Jacobs.
Rev. Bonnie was a loyal and well-loved friend to so many people. Her “heart posse” included Shelley Beth Cohen, Cynthia Fenton, Chrisse France, and Lisa Gitlin, who she chose to be with her (virtually) in her final moments.
Reverend Bonnie J. Berger made many extraordinary contributions to humanity. As a skilled teacher, trainer, faith leader, and friend, she inspired and supported us all in the journey toward a deeper faith in the loving aspects of the Universal Spirit. Our understanding of LGBT culture and its positive global impact is more complete because of her legacy.
Rev. Bonnie lived the transformation that comes of courage, authenticity, intention and love. Let us hold this in our hearts as we go forward.
May her memory be a blessing.