The Israel Free Loan Association began with Professor Eliezer Jaffe’s desire to help the large wave of Russian and Ethiopian Jewish aliyah that began at the end of the 1980′s.
Professor Jaffe z”l had established the Hebrew University’s School of Social Work and co-founded the university’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy.
His idea of a free loan fund arose following a 1989 visit to an immigrant absorption center in Jerusalem.
“I brought my children along,” he relates. “Busloads of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, straight off the airplane, had just arrived at the center and I explained that they were witnessing history in the making – the in-gathering of the exiles. After we got home I thought to myself – I have to get involved.”
Together with friends and colleagues, Eliezer tried to determine how best to help the immigrants. They didn’t want to give out food or clothes which would have meant dealing with trucks, distribution and storage – an approach that seemed paternalistic. “So we went back to Maimonides’ eight degrees of tzedakah,” says Eliezer. “The highest level of tzedakah is to give the poor man a loan or job that allows him to keep his dignity and become self-sufficient.”
The Jerusalem Post published an article by Professor Jaffe, laying out his plan. Friends in Israel, a man in Indianapolis and others who had read the article were impressed and $20,000 was raised. With these first donations IFLA was born. “We started with a table in the middle of a room, with volunteers on one side and loan applicants on the other,” says Eliezer.
Although originally established for new immigrants, IFLA soon branched out to offer help to Israelis with other pressing needs as well. IFLA, which began operating in 1990, had lent out over $25 million by the year 2000. By 2005 it reached the $50 million mark and by 2008 it surpassed $100 million in interest-free loans. Since then, the amount loaned has doubled, and today, the total value of loans has almost surpassed $270 million through over 60,000 loans.
The helping value continues to grow, thanks to IFLA’s sustainable model of support to people in need.