By Zach Itzkovitz

Women who face abuse of financial crisis can find help in the Jewish community, according to a panel of three women Hadassah gathered Sunday, May 31, at Berman Commons to address NEWS-Women1domestic abuse and available services.

The panel consisted of Wendy Lipshutz, the program director of Jewish Family & Career Services’ Shalom Bayit program; Helen Kotler, facilitator of the JF&CS Starting Over program; and Laura Kahn Travis, the president of Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta.

Domestic abuse against women is more common than many realize, Lipshutz said. “A woman is abused every nine seconds in this country,” she said. “One out of four women will be abused at least once in her lifetime.”

Speaking in the first person, Lipshutz shared personal stories of abuse given to her by other women.

In one such story, she told of a woman with an alcoholic father who emotionally abused her mother and threatened her with violence. That woman dealt with issues of identity and security later in life.

There is a fine line between disrespect and abuse, Lipshutz said.

“Abuse is about power and control,” she said. “If you or someone you know is being abused or has been abused, know that you’re not alone, that abuse is never the fault of the person being abused, and that you deserve to live free from violence.”

JIFLA (jifla.org) can help women in crisis escape violence.

Since opening in March 2010, JIFLA has given out over $200,000 in interest-free loans. It helps people with low credit scores and is not the place for people who can get a loan anywhere, Kahn said.

She gave several examples of JIFLA helping people in need.

A mother of three had a broken-down car but couldn’t afford the repair, and she needed a vehicle to get to work. JIFLA lent her $3,500 so she could fix the car and keep her job.

Kahn also introduced Wanda, another mother of three and a medical student. She struggled to pay her school debt and support her family even with a husband who had a good job.

“We made a $5,000 loan to Wanda to allow her to stay in medical school,” Kahn said. “We structured the loan so that her monthly payments were very low for the first 10 months until she started her residency, after which her repayments will go up as her income goes up.”

Kahn also discussed the Jewish Educational Loan Fund, a source of the final dollars needed for undergraduate and graduate education.

Private donors and grants from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta and other organizations finance JIFLA, which is not a charity and does not give handouts.

A potential borrower must be Jewish and present a path to repayment, Kahn said. “You do have to have a cash flow.”

A JIFLA borrower also must have a guarantor when applying for a loan, but Kahn said JIFLA has a high rate of repayment.

“We’ve only had to go to two guarantors, and the guarantors have paid the loans,” she said. “I think we had one tiny default of about $1,000 or $1,500. So when you do give money, you can feel very secure knowing that we take our responsibility very seriously.”

In the future JIFLA, located at the corner of New Peachtree and Clairmont roads in Chamblee, will work with JF&CS (yourtoolsforliving.org) to conduct financial literacy seminars. JIFLA also is seeking volunteers, who must apply for positions.