As increasing numbers of people in the MetroWest Jewish community face economic distress, one local agency is offering a helping hand.
The Hebrew Free Loan of New Jersey stands ready to lend up to $5,000, interest-free, to Jews who live in MetroWest or anyone — Jewish or not — who works for an agency partnered with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Despite the nation’s economic downturn, there is no upswing in instances of people borrowing money without interest.
“The big surprise is that there has not been a big increase in applications because people don’t want to add to their debt,” said Reuben Rotman, executive director of the Jewish Family Service of Metro-
West. “But some people do need to borrow, and we have to do a better job of educating the community that this resource exists.”
“We have a large pool of money — upward of $500,000 on account — and we would like to lend more,” added Jayne Sayovitz, JFS director of operations and coordinator of the HFL. JFS has overseen the society since the late 1980s.
Rotman said he is concerned that some people decide for themselves, “‘I am not going to do this’ or ‘I won’t get approved’ or ‘I don’t want to add debt to my situation,’ so they don’t go for it.
“But I am of the view that every option should be explored,” he told NJ Jewish News.
The Hebrew Free Loan of NJ is an heir to an organization that was founded in Newark in 1901, closed in 1955, and then reopened in 1996 to serve the Jewish community in Essex and Morris counties. In 2007 it began offering assistance to the Jewish community in Monmouth County as well.
Rotman said the application process is a simple one.
“It’s ‘Where do you live? Where do you work? What is in your bank account? Who is your endorser? And why do you need the loan?’” he said. “The answer to the last question can be as specific as, ‘I need car repairs’ or as vague as ‘I have credit card debt or moving expenses or a security deposit.’”
The loan committee meets monthly, but in emergency situations, applicants can receive loans more speedily, he said.
“It is a very flexible loan-making process. If you run into difficulty while you’re repaying, the terms can be reassessed. The fact that it is interest-free makes it a good resource. If you have massive debt, it is not going to get you out of debt, but it could be a help through a difficult patch,” said Rotman.
Applicants must have endorsers or co-signers for all loans over $1,000.
“We pay a lot of attention to the creditworthiness of the co-signer,” said the loan organization’s president, Arthur Schechner, on a phone call from his winter home in Boca Raton, Fla.
“We recycle money,” he said. “We take our money, we lend it to you, and we get it back and lend it to the next guy, and so forth. We have lent close to $1 million, and we’ve still got $200,000 out there that will come back and out and back and out. That is a great concept.”
Noting that the directive to “lend money to fellow Jews without interest is repeated three times in the Bible” while the Ten Commandments are mentioned only twice, Schechner said, “We bring dignity and we bring spirituality and we bring help.”
If someone does not qualify for a loan, JFS can help with budget counseling, said Sayovitz. “If a borrower is judged not able to repay, we won’t make the plan. We don’t want to hand the debt over to the endorser.”