Community Briefs

Ball to Help Fund Bet Tzedek Efforts to Provide Legal Aid

At a car wash workers’ hearing before a labor commissioner last week, Bet Tzedek Legal Services client Raul Arellano described working 10-hour days soaking wet, for well under minimum wage. He recounted conditions in which colleagues were hit by cars, endured dead animals in the workplace and harsh chemicals without protection (a colleague’s skin had sloughed off).

Bet Tzedek resolved problems with the car wash owners involved, but since receiving a barrage of calls from employees like Arellano, it has dramatically increased outreach to inform such workers of their rights under a new (but under-reinforced) law.

The service is typical of 31-year-old Bet Tzedek, which helps Los Angeles’ poor, disabled and elderly. It operates on a $5 million budget, in part raised by the annual Justice Ball, which this year will be held July 9. The proceeds — which totaled $400,000 last year — will help fund programs across the board, along with new projects, Executive Director Mitch Kamin said.

Since Terri Schiavo died March 31, Bet Tzedek has expanded end-of-life planning workshops to the underserved Latino population, attorney Janet Morris said.

And when complaints persisted about individual slumlords, the organization spurred a program to wrest a building’s control from repeat offenders by petitioning for a receiver or financial overseer for the property.

The effort will help tenants such as those in a Los Angeles building, where “there were open sewage lines, no hot water and bathrooms where the mold was so bad, it was hard to breathe, even with a T-shirt over your mouth,” attorney Elissa Barrett said.

Bet Tzedek successfully obtained a receiver for the building, and plans to increase such efforts. “This will help address the acute affordable housing crisis in L.A., where workers often can afford only slum housing,” Kamin said.

For information about the Justice Ball, visit — Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

A Kidney for Chana

Five-year-old Chana Bogatz now possesses a donated adult kidney, courtesy of Michelle Reichert of Minneapolis.

Chana touched hearts in Los Angeles last November, when Chai Lifeline, an organization that helps families with sick children, launched an Internet and advertising campaign to help find a kidney donor for her. Chana was born in Israel with malfunctioning kidneys, and her family moved to the United States to help her get better medical care and to try and save her life.

Failing to find a donor in Los Angeles, the Bogatzes relocated to Minneapolis, where the local CBS affiliate aired a segment about Chana needing a kidney. Reichert, 34-year-old social worker, saw the program and immediately went to the hospital to get tested. She was a perfect match, and on May 27 — Lag B’Omer on the Hebrew calendar — Reichert underwent an operation to give Chana one of her kidneys.

Chana’s body accepted the kidney, and the child is embracing her dialysis-free life.

“She tasted chocolate for the first time, and she really liked it,” said Yehudis Bogatz, Chana’s mother.

Previously, Chana was fed through a feeding tube inserted through her nose, and could take only a tablespoon of milk at a time. — Gaby Friedman, Contributing Writer

U.S. Reluctant Superpower, Krauthammer Says

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer spoke to about 900 people at Stephen S. Wise Temple on June 23, and said that the United States is now the world’s sole superpower atop an influence gap with less powerful nations.

“The gap is larger today than it has even been at least since the fall of the Roman empire,” Krauthammer said in his lecture, “In Defense of American Empire.”

The Boston psychiatrist-turned-Washington pundit also was in Los Angeles for his niece’s June 26 wedding at the synagogue.

Krauthammer outlined his belief that the United States has become a reluctant superpower that remains philosophically distinct from prior superpowers. Comparing the U.S. occupation of Iraq to Britain’s conquest of India and ancient Rome’s subjugation of Europe, he said those now-dead empires “were not looking for an exit strategy. Americans, we like it here. We are not an empire. We are a commercial culture.”

Among the lecture’s sponsors were Stephen S. Wise members attorney Bruce Ramer, real estate executive Newton Becker, CPA and Republican fundraiser Bruce Bialosky and filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd.

Speaking about Israel, Krauthammer’s audience meter rose notably when he praised President Bush for shutting off all White House contact with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“You make an agreement with Yasser Arafat, you know precisely that it will not be honored,” he said.

When asked if he believed Jews should embrace conservative Christians’ strong backing of Israel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, center-right pundit condemned those whom he said would “basically spit in the face of people who support our cause. I think it as an act of near suicide to reject that kind of whole-hearted support of millions of Americans.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer