Moving and shaking: Nicholas Kristof, Bet Tzedek Justice for All and Constance Scharff

It was an evening against despair. On Jan. 25, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof delivered a lecture before a packed house of more than 800 people at the Skirball Cultural Center.

At a pre-lecture reception, a small crowd of invited guests joined Kristof as he toured the Skirball exhibition based on the book “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity,” which the Pulitzer Prize-winner co-authored with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

Kristof, who hadn’t seen the exhibit, was clearly moved by the displays of innovative items that entrepreneurs throughout the developing world are using to combat persistent problems: for example, a rolling water barrel that enables village women to bring water to their families without having to carry it; a teddy bear made by West Bank Palestinians for therapeutic use by Syrian refugee children; a sanitary napkin made of low cost and hygienic banana leaf fibers; a $5 solar-powered light.

“People kept asking us, ‘What can we do?’ ” Kristof said, explaining how he and his wife came to collect the stories of innovative solutions to issues such as unsanitary water, lack of birth control and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

In his lecture, Kristof said there has been a “revolution in giving” propelled by the forces of new technology, social media and metrics. “A wave of innovation in giving back is sweeping the world,” he said.

One driver is the ample data set that shows early intervention in education and health leads to significant improvements. The underlying idea, Kristof said, is, “Talent is universal, opportunity is not.”

The upbeat writer gave a PowerPoint presentation with many examples of development projects that are changing the world, one community at a time. “One of the common perceptions is that everything we do is just a drop in the bucket,” he said. “I’m a believer in drops in the bucket.”

The Skirball exhibition “A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World” runs through Feb. 21.

— Rob Eshman, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

The Jan. 26 Bet Tzedek Justice for All annual dinner gala honored former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award; the UCLA School of Law with the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award; attorney Sam Yebri with the Rebecca Nichols Emerging Leader Award; and Bet Tzedek Legal Services attorney Akiko Nishino with the Jack H. Skirball Community Justice Award.

Special guests among the approximately 1,400 in attendance at the Hyatt Century Plaza Hotel included Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe, who delivered a blessing; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who gave remarks; and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who presented the award to Holder.

The event raised more than $2 million for Bet Tzedek, a pro bono legal organization that, among its many avenues of assistance to those in need, assists Holocaust survivors with obtaining reparation payments from the German government.

Holder, upon receiving his award, spotlighted the “historic alliance” between the African-American and Jewish communities, and said the late Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who co-founded the anti-genocide organization Jewish World Watch, embodied the Jewish commitment to justice.

Additional speakers included Jessie Kornberg, CEO of Bet Tzedek, who took the stage with many of Bet Tzedek’s 60 staff members standing behind her. She emphasized the plight of the homeless, saying, “I drive to work and see tents on the sidewalk, and there are more today than there were a month ago.”

Attendees included former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and his wife, Barbara; former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles Executive Vice President Andrew Cushnir; former Bet Tzedek president and CEO Sandor Samuels; Executive Director and Founding President of IKAR Melissa Balaban; and attorney and former L.A. Department of Water and Power chief H. David Nahai.

Wolpe perhaps best expressed the sentiment of the evening when he told the crowd, addressing the Bet Tzedek attorneys, board members and others, “What you do is bring hope.”

Constance Scharff has been named a Hadassah Leadership Fellow for 2016-17, a two-year leadership engagement program. Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, focuses on connecting and empowering Jewish women to effect change. It advocates for women’s health in the United States and Israel by bringing together Jewish women who are leaders in the field.

Scharff is the senior addiction research fellow and director of addiction research at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center and holds a doctorate in transformative studies, specializing in addiction recovery. She co-authored “Ending Addiction for Good” with Cliffside Malibu founder Richard Taite and travels the world to speak about the neuroscience of addiction recovery, the basis for Cliffside Malibu’s treatment model.

In an email, Scharff wrote: “I’m thrilled to be part of the Hadassah Leadership Fellows program. I spend a considerable amount of time in Israel and have seen firsthand the benefit Hadassah brings to those in need of medical care there. I am honored to learn more about Hadassah’s programs and operations and what I can do to support them. I bring … an expertise in mental health that I hope will add value to Hadassah’s existing programs.”

Scharff is also currently working with Kibbutzim College in Tel Aviv on a curriculum based on her research that will help educate health care professionals in Israel on ways to help addicts recover.

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

Please note: this article was originally published in Jewish Journal.