In Search of Fairfax

Bet Tzedek

Bet Tzedek, which means "house of justice" in English, was established in 1974 as a nonsectarian, nonprofit legal service organization with a particular interest in the wellbeing of the Jewish community and the Jewish poor. Local attorney Luis Lainer and Rabbi Stan Levy established Bet Tzedek with three specific goals in mind—that is, they sought to make available free legal counseling for individuals with limited financial means, use Jewish law and Jewish legal institutions to resolve legal disputes, and provide the community with a legal education to help empower the disenfranchised. 

During its early years, Bet Tzedek operated out of a storefront at 163 Fairfax Avenue with a handful of professional staffers and a core of volunteer attorneys. Largely representing low income Jews who lived in and around the Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood, much of Bet Tzedek's casework during the 1970s entailed writing wills and helping clients receive unemployment benefits. A significant percentage of their early funding came from the Jewish Federation Council and a grant by the federal Legal Services Corporation; they also received financial support through private donations. 

By the early 1980s, Bet Tzedek, having moved into a larger larger facility at 7966 Beverly Boulevard, increasingly came to handle unlawful eviction cases that were mounting throughout Beverly-Fairfax and were threatening to displace the neighborhood’s elderly and immigrants residents. Indeed, about half of the Bet Tzedek's 3,500 cases in 1980 revolved around landlord-tenant disputes. Bet Tzedek lawyers, for example, helped Bess and Victor Rosenthal--a couple in their 60s who paid $280.13 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in the Fairfax neighborhood--stave off multiple eviction attempts. 

Within this context, the organization began to see itself as a crucial safeguard for keeping Fairfax’s fragile ethnic ecosystem intact; the majority of its volunteers were Jewish attorneys who could trace their familial roots in Los Angeles to the Fairfax neighborhood and were personally invested in ensuring Fairfax's future as an identifiable Jewish enclave. As Bet Tzedek’s Executive Director Terry Friedman explained to the Los Angeles Times, “The whole idea of the neighborhood is important…we very much see the elderly poor as our clients in the vast sense, and we have a commitment to preserving the unique life that is available here and nowhere else."

Sources: Barbara Riegelhaupt, “Beverly-Fairfax Area: ‘House of Justice’ Aids Needy in Rent Cases,” Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1981;  Bet Tzedek Legal Services, 1970-2000, folder 2, box 83, Western States Jewish History Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles; Lynn Simross, “Rent-Control Fallout: Plight of the Elderly Tenant Elderly: Tenants and Rent Control,” Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1981.

This page has paths:

This page references: