Remembering Rebekah Kaplan, midwife to midwives and dispenser of wisdom

She was captivating in her grace and embodied the perfect balance of science and “woo-woo.”

Rebekah Kaplan. Credit: David Burk

Longtime Berkeley resident Rebekah Kaplan died Nov. 16 of injuries sustained in a cycling accident in the Oakland Hills. “Please focus on the fact that we had a sage, badass, prescient, and solidly-grounded being in our midst,” her husband David Burk wrote in a message of Thanksgiving to family and friends. “Rebekah was the greatest of gifts and taking her spirit and legacy forward is our family’s greatest wish for you.”

Kaplan, a midwife for more than 30 years, held joint appointments at the UCSF School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and was a certified nurse-midwife at UCSF San Francisco General Hospital. As a revered educator, mentor and clinician, Kaplan brought compassion, empathy, humor, and tremendous skill to each of her many roles. She was a “skilled midwife who clearly loved her work – loved bringing new life into the world,” according to a note shared with staff at UCSF. “Her patients adored her, as did her colleagues and students. She is renowned for her quick wit, optimism, wisdom and generosity of spirit.”

Kaplan had a deep commitment to advancing equity and anti-racism in maternal and reproductive health, and in healthcare more broadly. She worked at a birth center in North Central Bronx after graduating from Yale School of Nursing and at UCSF continued addressing how race, privilege and bias show up in educational and clinical settings. “Rebekah’s very specific work was to land people in a learning environment that is safe and respectful and where people’s voices are heard,” said her UCSF colleague Margy Hutchinson. Kaplan was honored multiple times for her excellence in teaching by the UCSF School of Nursing and by the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Kaplan was also known for the aphorisms she dispensed along with her clinical training, that were “infused with wisdom for the ages,” said Kim Đâu, a former midwife student of Kaplan’s who became a colleague at UCSF. “Rebekah always had the kind of patience and presence that makes the best midwife and person,” Kaplan’s student Ariela Schnyer posted in an online tribute. Curious, attentive and always ready to give you that little push into the [un] known. Whether she midwifed patients into parents or her students into midwives, she did it with such gentle hands and matter of fact humor and care.”

Rebekah brought the same nurturing spirit to the huge circle of friends she and David cultivated through work, cycling, community service, synagogue and their sons’ school and neighborhood communities. She was a hospitality legend, hosting meals, parties, runs and rides, Shabbat dinners (featuring Indian food), and holiday gatherings for countless family and friends, year in and year out.

Rebekah Kaplan memorial. Credit: David Burk

Friends have erected a “ghostcycle” memorial on the descending side of Claremont Avenue above Alvarado Road in Oakland, near the scene of the solo accident that occurred three days before she died. Now dubbed “Angel Bike,” mourners in Rebakah’s enormous community have festooned the white bike frame with flowers, as well as mementos, in a nod to the easy and irreverent humor Rebekah brought to her chosen career and to life. Among the offerings: an IUD, a “Menstrual Cycles” logo from one of her cycling clubs, a small latex torso dangling from a keychain.

In the early morning a few hours after she transitioned, in her husband’s words, “into a glowing, resplendent being,” he shared the news with friends and family. “It is my greatest wish that in celebrating Rebekah, we continue her commitment to teaching, learning, listening, understanding the truths that we all communicate beyond the surface of our words,” he wrote. “And, of course, we will do plenty of ‘woo-woo.'”

In addition to her husband David Burk, Rebekah Kaplan is survived by her sons Ezra and Emmet Burk, her mother Nancy Kaplan, siblings Seth (Moira Kelly Kaplan), Rachel and Ethan (Diana Meier), and five nieces and nephews. Funeral information will be made available on CaringBridgeRebekah’s family has established the Rebekah Kaplan Memorial Scholarship for Midwifery at UCSF  to support her legacy.