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Spectrum News 1 – LA Stories: ‘Never Turning Away a Stranger:’ L.A. Nonprofit CEO Looks at 50 Years of Justice, Compassion

WATCH THE IN-DEPTH VIDEO FEATURE HERE

Bet Tzedek is an organization committed to providing equitable access to justice for all individuals. It was founded in 1974 by Rabbi Stanley Levy and Luis Lainer to address the legal needs of Holocaust survivors and seniors in Los Angeles.

Initially operating from a storefront office with volunteer assistance, Bet Tzedek has evolved into a prominent public interest law firm, serving a diverse range of communities across LA County.

Today, at its helm, sits Diego Cartagena, who serves as president and CEO.

Born in El Salvador, Cartagena moved to the U.S. when he was just two years old. He saw firsthand the challenges his parents faced as immigrants in our country and was inspired to help fight for those struggling to get by.

“If you don’t receive the proper help, it can mean you are removed from the United States and everything that you have built is dashed,” he said. “It’s a huge part of what we do here and one of the reasons why we are so motivated and driven.”

In the latest episode of “LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez,” Cartagena shares stories of the work Bet Tzedek has done, offering free legal services to low-income individuals and families across Los Angeles County.

There are stories like Breanna Clark, who was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old. Her mother Rosalyn sought legal support from Bet Tzedek in order to navigate Breanna’s academic and athletic journey.

With their help, Rosalyn was able to get a conservatorship for Breanna, who went on to win two gold medals in the Paralympic Games.

“She needed someone, even as an adult, to be there for her. And as an individual living with a disability, she was very fortunate that she had her mother there,” Cartagena said. “She came to us and we assisted the family in filling out, filing all the forms, and having their day in court.”

Now celebrating 50 years, Bet Tzedek has expanded its services to include legal aid for tenants, homeowners, workers, small business owners, immigrants, LGBTQ+ individuals, children, and families.

Through a multifaceted approach that includes education, direct representation, pro bono services, impact litigation, and policy advocacy, Bet Tzedek has assisted thousands of people, supported by a dedicated staff and volunteers.

“It is a reflection of some of the Jewish tenets and ideals that inform our organization,” Cartagena said. “For example, this idea of never turning away a stranger from a strange land. All of the advocates here feel that in their bones, understand the importance of it, and it [really] drives them forward on the work that they do.”