January 24, 2019

Moving and shaking: Bet Tzedek, Beit T’Shuvah and Forbes

Halfway through Bet Tzedek’s annual dinner gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel on Jan. 22, Jessie Kornberg, the brand-new president and CEO of the nonprofit legal-aid organization, stepped onto the stage. As she approached the microphone, one member of Bet Tzedek’s new leadership council whispered ecstatically to a reporter:  “We love Jessie.”

Kornberg has been on the job only since December. This was her coming-out party, and she immediately owned the stage — bringing up with her about 45 of the 60 members of her staff — and as she started to speak, she spread her arms wide and announced to the 1,100-member crowd: “This is Bet Tzedek.”  Then she went on to tell of the anonymous clients whose homes the attorneys had saved, the Holocaust survivors whose legal claims they had garnered, the infirm whose care the lawyers had assured.

“You are not alone,” Kornberg told the affluent crowd, although she was actually addressing those clients whose many needs the organization sets out to alleviate. “We will fight for you,” she said. “We are the army at your back.”

First impressions are often the most lasting, and in those few words, Kornberg, with her giant smile and simple message, had the crowd in her hands and on its feet for a full minute of standing ovation. The evening raised more than $2.25 million for Bet Tzedek, including meeting the challenge, announced from the stage, of a matching gift of $250,000 from Art and Dahlia Bilger, according to David Bubis, Bet Tzedek vice president of development.

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was honored with the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award for his extensive service to the community. Southern California Edison President Pedro Pizarro was awarded the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award for his longtime support of the organization. Board member and vice president of Millco Investments Samantha Millman received the Rebecca Nichols Emerging Leader Award, and Bet Tzedek attorney Erikson Albrecht was honored with the Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award.

Also in attendance were last year’s Lainer awardee, philanthropist Stanley Gold, as well as Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson. L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and attorneys David Lash, Mitch Kamin and Sandy Samuels, all past Bet Tzedek presidents and CEOs, were also in attendance, along with California State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, and law school deans Robert Rasmussen of USC and Rachel Moran of UCLA.

— Susan Freudenheim, Executive Editor

Beit T’Shuvah, a Culver City-based facility that treats patients suffering from addiction and also operates a full-service synagogue, honored Jon Esformes during Road to Redemption, the rehabilitation center’s 23rd annual gala. The Jan. 18 evening at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza drew 850 attendees and raised $1.6 million.

Esformes, who once suffered from alcoholism, was suicidal and homeless before undergoing treatment at Beit T’Shuvah, according to a Jan. 22 press release. Today, he is on the facility’s board and serves as the operating partner at Pacific Tomato Growers, a family-owned farming business in Florida that is one of the largest in the nation and that has fought to raise farmworker wages and improve farmers’ working conditions. (To learn more about Esformes’ work, watch a community screening of the film “Food Chains,” which features him, at Beit T’Shuvah on Feb. 8.)  

Above: Entertainers at Beit T’Shuvah’s gala included singer Shany Zamir and Beit T’Shuvah resident Ben Foster.

Below: Beit T’Shuvah graduates Asher and Rachel Ehrman fell in love during their treatment and are now happily married.
Photos by Justin Rosenberg, Creative Matters Agency

“He went from pushing shopping carts to filling the shopping carts of others,” Beit T’Shuvah founder and executive vice president Harriet Rossetto said of Esformes, as quoted by the press release. She leads Beit T’Shuvah with her husband, Rabbi Mark Borovitz, its head rabbi and CEO. 

The gala featured live entertainment — a musical performance by singer Shany Zamir and Beit T’Shuvah resident Ben Foster highlighted the event. Additional performers included Beit T’Shuvah Cantor Shira Fox and the Beit T’Shuvah Choir. Asher and Rachel Ehrman, who met and fell in love during their treatment and are now happily married, spoke about how Beit T’Shuvah has impacted their lives.

Co-chairs were Lise Applebaum, Meryl Kern and Janice Kamenir-Reznik

Milken Community School alums Mark Gurman (class of  2012) and Asher Vollmer (2008) were included in Forbes’ fourth annual 30 Under 30 list, which recognizes millennials making moves in consumer technology, finance, education and other fields. 

Mark Gurman, photo courtesy of Milken Community School

Already an accomplished journalist, Gurman was featured in Forbes’ crowded media section. He is currently the senior editor of 9to5Mac, one of the largest Apple product tracking sites. The 20-year-old began his ascent at the end of 2009, when he caught the eye of Seth Weintraub, the site’s founder, after locating several online references to Apple registering domains for tablet-related products and informing Apple news blogs about his discovery. This was all before the original iPad was announced and before Gurman’s junior year at Milken. Weintraub himself promptly hired Gurman as a 9to5Mac intern.

Asher Vollmer, photo courtesy of Milken Community School

Vollmer, 25, a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media and Games Division, made the games category. He started as the “feel” engineer, dealing with controls, character movement and camera behavior for the game development studio thatgamecompany, but left in 2012 to pursue a more independent route. Shortly thereafter, his independent development team — consisting of himself, illustrator Greg Wohlwend and composer Jimmy Hinson — created “Threes!” a puzzle game in which the player moves numbered tiles to link multiples and addends of three. When there are no moves left on the grid, the tiles are counted for a final score. Vollmer collected an Apple Design Award last year when the tech giant named “Threes!” its best iPhone game of 2014. 

Vollmer also designed “Puzzlejuice,” a Tetris-inspired puzzle game, and “Close Castles,” an IOS strategy game played on a grid map in the same vein as the board game Risk. 

— Oren Peleg, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.