Home June 2023 Interest-Free Loans Offered

Interest-Free Loans Offered

Group Helps with Businesses, Families and Other Needs

    Hannah was able to provide her grandmother compassionate care and comfort in the form of an around-the-clock nurse in the last six months of her life thanks to an interest-free loan provided by the Hebrew Free Loan Society of New Jersey.
    The Freehold resident some years later again turned to the organization for help while going through a divorce and needing assistance with attorney and childcare expenses.
    “They really helped us,” said Hannah, whose last name is being withheld by JLife to protect her privacy. “They were so understanding.”
    That kind of care has been a hallmark of Hebrew free loan societies, which began around the turn of the last century to provide interest-free loans to Jewish community members to start small businesses.
    Today the New Jersey society, in which the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey is a participant, not only offers loans to build businesses, but also for general needs, including medical and dental bills and home repairs, and for building Jewish families, covering adoption, surrogacy and IVF services.
    Hannah said the organization acted on her requests promptly, agreeing to cover one of her mortgage payments in her most recent loan, allowing her to repay the $7,500 at $180 a month.
    “There is no bureaucracy, the paperwork process is very easy and straightforward,” she noted. “I had an amazing experience. I could always count on them to answer questions, provide a great source of information or get me to the right agency or organization. I know that as a Jew, they will always be there for me.”
    Malkie Ratzker, coordinator of loan services for the Florham Park-based society, said it gets referrals from community leaders, rabbis and local Jewish family services and federations.
    “We say we give them a hand up, not a handout,” said Ratzker. “The society is for people who hit a bump in the road and find themselves in the position of not being able to pay credit card debt, medical or dental bills, or unexpected repairs to their homes or car. We help them get over that hurdle.”
    Additionally, the society has helped others not only start a business but also expand an existing one, as well as grow families for those struggling with infertility.
    “We financially make dreams come true,” said Ratzker, who said the society currently is administering just over 100 loans. Since 2008 it has provided hundreds of loans totaling $1.4 million. Besides the local federation, it is a beneficiary of the Jewish federations of Greater MetroWest and Northern New Jersey and recently incorporated the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Paterson, allowing it to serve the community in nine counties.
    When the pandemic struck, Ratzker said her organization, as well as every other free loan society she spoke to, had a quiet spell because people were nervous about taking on additional loans. Instead, its business loans pivoted to helping businesses stay afloat. Those businesses have paid back the loans and today, she noted, they are thriving.
    Loan requests have now returned to pre-covid levels.  
    One of the biggest requests for loans is for dental bills, which can require a large lump sum be paid upfront, Ratzker said. As with other loans, a manageable time frame and monthly fee repayment plan is set up. Likewise, a credit card bill can be repaid with manageable monthly repayment plans minus the onerous monthly interest charges. 
    “The whole process is very dignified and extremely confidential,” Ratzker said. “We’re very user friendly. The application is online and we have loan committee meetings twice a month. If the loan is approved, you can have a check in hand within a week. We have close to zero percent default, which I think speaks to the trust people have in us. We are there for the Jewish community both when there are problems and in good times.”
    Beth Krinsky of Manalapan and Laurie Landy of Monroe are both on the federation’s board of governors and on the loan society board.
    Krinsky called the society, whose board she has been on 12 years, “my favorite committee.”
    “We have recurring clients who come back to us with something else,” she said. “If they have been diligent in their repayments, we have no problem giving them a loan for another. The Hebrew Free Loan Society is the most compassionate board I ever met. Their goal is to make people whole and happy and relieve their financial stress.”
    Landy joined three years ago in the middle of COVID-19 and found the board to be “a very heimishe and intelligent group of people.”    
    She is a veteran of many boards and one thing that stands out about this one is its young people, she said, something missing on many others. “It is so great to get their perspective.”
    “How great is it to help an entrepreneur who wants to start a business or help someone going through hardship?” she asked. “It makes you feel so good to help.”
    Landy is founder and director of Special Strides, which uses horses to provide occupational therapy for special-needs children, and has some experience writing grants for her business, a skill she is beginning to use to help the society.
    While the federations provide funding for the organization, it also gets donations from individuals, including some who have been helped and are now back on firm financial footing.
    The chain of good has continued in recent times.
     The Change Reaction, a  Los Angeles philanthropic foundation, just over two years ago unexpectedly contacted Ratzker and offered to pay off some loans. Krinsky said at a party Ratzker told someone about the society and that person offered to pay off someone’s loan.
    “That started a whole campaign and other people said, ‘I want to pay off  $100 or $200 or larger of someone’s loan,’” she said. Landy added: “It had a domino effect on the board,” whose members started to contribute to loans.
    One of those who benefited from the spate of repayments was Hannah, who received a $100 gift card and found $1,000 of her loan had been paid.
    “It was a one-time thing, but a very heartwarming thing,” said Landy. “Doing good makes other people want to do good.”
    For information in Middlesex contact Debby Alter at Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County at (732) 777-1940, ext. 1119; and in Monmouth, Leslie Kornfeld at Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Monmouth County at (732) 588-1805, ext. 13 or info@hebrewfreeloanofnj.org.
    To donate or learn more about the society, go to https://www.hebrewfreeloanofnj.org.  

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly  daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.


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