October 20, 2018

Bet Tzedek Has a Ball With Rapper Nelly

Surrounded by dancing bodies, a 20-something took off his shirt and waved it around his head, bare-chested, simply following the instructions of hip-hop artist Nelly, the performer on stage. “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes,” Nelly sang, the lyrics from his 2002 hit song, “Hot in Herre.”

The performance took place at Bet Tzedek’s 15th annual Justice Ball, held on June 25.

“As Jews, we love hip hop,” said Serena Zeise, southwest regional director for J Street, who was at the event.

Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a pro bono law firm in Los Angeles that offers counsel to low-income, elderly and disabled clients — “bet tzedek” means “house of justice” in Hebrew — hosts the Justice Ball every year, attracting young professionals from the community and raising money for Bet Tzedek. The firm tackles consumer fraud, employment rights and Holocaust reparations, among other issues.

Organizers said the event raised approximately $300,000, in line with their fundraising goal. To date, Bet Tzedek has raised more than $4 million from tickets sold at the Justice Ball every year.

Approximately 2,500 people attended the Justice Ball, according to Amy Peckner, senior development officer at Bet Tzedek, including fresh-out-of-school lawyers and young staff from various nonprofits in the community.

Wearing sunglasses and bling and joined on stage by his brother, also a rapper, and a DJ, Nelly’s set list included “E.I.,” “County Grammar,” “Ride With Me” and his latest single, “Just a Dream” — a reminder of how many hit songs the Southern rapper has had since his debut album, “Country Grammar,” was released in 2000 and became a chart-topping crossover success, embraced by the pop world. He won a Grammy in 2003 and has sold millions of records.

The selection of Nelly as the event’s headliner continues Bet Tzedek’s streak of booking contemporary, nonreligious talent for its big, annual event.

“That’s what they’re into,” Peckner said of young professionals. “It’s not a matter [of] if someone is Jewish or not Jewish. We’re looking at people who reach a wider audience.” Previous years have featured such acts as Macy Gray, The Go-Go’s and DJ AM.