Generosity seems to be a natural Jewish trait, one which is encouraged by our culture, communal life, and the commandment to give tzedakah. We all know there are Jews in need in the Atlanta community, but it’s sometimes hard to know how to help. Do I give a person money directly? Send them an anonymous gift card? Give to the rabbi’s discretionary fund?
And is giving money even the best approach? Maybe I should just pay that medical bill or overdue rent for them. And what if the person is capable of paying the money back over time; is that better than just giving it to them? Wow… it is hard to know the best approach.
Over the years, I personally struggled with all of these questions. And on top of that, I also like seeing the direct impact of my contributions on real people in my community. So that’s another challenge.
All of these issues came together for me when I was asked to join the founding board of JIFLA – the Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta – eight years ago. Before becoming president, I was on the loan committee for five years (I still am). I loved this role because it put me directly in contact with people who needed help. And it put a tool in my toolkit that I hadn’t even known existed – an interest free loan.
For me, the interest free loan has addressed many of my charity challenges.
First, it is affiliation-agnostic. At JIFLA, our borrowers have ranged from a Jewish Home resident in need of a hearing aid to a young man two years out of UGA who was ubering to work every day; with our help, he was able to buy a dependable car.
They are members of The Temple, Chabadniks and unaffiliated. Their demographics range from a young couple finishing graduate school who needed a bridge loan to their first pay checks to an 80-year-old couple who wanted to move out of their daughter’s house and into their own apartment.
Second, an interest free loan is a hand up, not a hand out, because JIFLA provides loans, not charity. Our repayment rate is extraordinarily high because people want to meet their obligations. And because they pay us back, we are able to re-lend that money into our community again and again.
Finally, it allows me to see a direct, positive impact on my community. Imagine the feeling of making a loan to a man who, after six months unemployed, finally gets stable employment, only to have his car break down. Without $3,000 to fix his car, his life becomes a downward spiral. With it, he stays employed, his family’s position is stabilized, and he comfortably pays back at $125/ month over two years. Talk about high-impact giving!
Imagine a woman coming in with a 2-year-old child. She is going through a divorce and her ex has frozen all the assets. She has a solid job but needs money now to pay household bills and to engage a divorce lawyer. Or a person forced to take out a payday loan to pay his medical insurance premium. He incurred over $250 in fees in just one month before refinancing with us! I actually get goosebumps when I think about the impact JIFLA has had on these lives.
I could literally tell 50 of these stories, which I have seen over the past eight years. And the need is tremendous. We made 10 loans in 2015, 32 loans last year, and 24 already this year. As the word about JIFLA gets out, more and more people realize that there is a way to retain financial stability when facing a financial challenge.
And it is our incredible privilege to provide that assistance.
Due to this growth in demand, our focus is now shifting from raising awareness to raising money, so that we can continue to meet the community’s needs.
So, if you know of someone who is struggling, please send them to JIFLA. We are here to help ensure that every community member has a sweet and healthy new year.