Until burn survivor Wendy (not her real name) met makeup artist Maurice Stein a decade ago, she dreaded leaving her house. Before a gas stove explosion almost burned her alive in 1987, she had been a 23-year-old cocktail waitress with long, blonde hair and blue eyes, and generated plenty of attention from the opposite sex.
However, the fire from the explosion incinerated her hands, nose, ears and eyelids and left her face an unrecognizable mask of colors and scars. When the hospital nurses allowed her to look in the mirror, "I screamed and cried," she said. "I looked like a monster."
When she finally left the hospital nine months later, people stared at her when she ventured out, and cosmetics didn't help. Her old Clinique foundation slipped off the scars and thicker makeup looked waxy.
"I was desperate to find someone to help me," Wendy said.
A federal court trial, alleging that the Orthodox Jewish owners of a Pico-Robertson building evicted a tenant because he shared his apartment with a non-Jew, is scheduled to open in Los Angeles next week.
The suit by Lawrence "Chaim" Stein alleges that he was evicted in 2004 by the board of Torat Hayim, a nonprofit that is best known for its Pico-Robertson school and synagogue, but that also manages a handful of apartments.
Stein's central piece of evidence in the suit is a voice mail left on his phone answering machine by Michael Braum, one of the suit's defendants and the pro bono manager of the apartment in the 8800 block of Alcott Street.
"I can't believe you rented to a goy," says the voice on the tape, which Braum has acknowledged as his in a deposition.
"Two days after that, we get an eviction notice," Stein said.
Rejecting tenants based on religion is illegal. Braum noted in an interview that Torah Hayim's tenants include non-Jews. He insisted that the issue was not religion, but that Stein unilaterally changed terms of the lease.