The Hebrew Free Loan of New Jersey (HFLNJ), a member of the International Association of Jewish Free Loans (IAJFL), offers interest-free loans to members of the Jewish community. For the past seven years, it has been helmed by Malkie Ratzker, director of loan services.
Allocations from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey and the Jewish Federation of the Heart of New Jersey help HFLNJ meet the needs of qualified applicants who reside in these Federations’ catchment areas. Included are the Jewish communities of Essex, Morris, Sussex, Union, Hudson, Monmouth and Middlesex counties. A partnership with Hebrew Free Loan of Paterson allows for Jewish residents who reside in areas of Bergen and Passaic counties to also apply.
The average loan for general needs is $3,000, which takes two to three years to pay back in flexible and understanding terms. Following Maimonides doctrine, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” HFLNJ is “a hand up, not a handout” not-for-profit organization.
Leo Gordon, HFLNJ president, heads a board of 18 diverse members representing various counties within the organization; the board meets regularly to determine whether loan applications should be approved. Ratzker calls working with the board, composed of the most kindhearted and generous of spirit people with whom she has ever worked, the most inspiring part of her job.
“Well in excess of 95% of the loans are approved; it is the last resort for some folks,” Gordon explained, adding that recipients must be able to repay the loan. If they are looking for a grant, he said, “we send them to JFS.” Likewise, Ratzker noted, JFS makes referrals to them.
Once a loan is approved, Ratzker takes care of the payback details, making sure that the recipients receive the utmost respect, kindness and understanding. Loans are processed very quickly with a turnaround time within days of the approval by the board.
HFLNJ has added two new funds to its loan offerings, originally extended for debt consolidation, home improvements and medical expenses, and recently, coronavirus aid. One of its latest endeavors is the Building Jewish Families fund, which offers interest-free loans for fertility treatment, surrogacy and adoption. A Building Jewish Businesses fund to help entrepreneurs starting or expanding their businesses is another recent addition. They do not provide student loans.
Unfortunately, the current times make loan repayment difficult for many. Ratzker was contacted last month by the program manager at The Change Reaction in Los Angeles, a philanthropic foundation started by Jodi and Greg Perlman. Greg is originally from Paramus and lived there in the 70s.
Greg shared that he and his wife started The Change Reaction Foundation about a year ago, “to bring goodness by empowering change agents such as social workers and case managers to lift people’s spirits,” by giving them access to funding. The goal of the Perlmans is to get others to adopt their philosophy.
The Change Reaction reached out to HFLNJ “for the goodness they do in the community.” HFLNJ was one of only 10 agencies across the country contacted as direct-giving sponsors.
“The Perlmans wanted to do something special this Chanukah season,” said Ratzker. The gifts from The Change Reaction are being given to those diligently paying off their loans but finding monthly payments difficult due to a hardship in life.
Their average grant is $1,300, Greg noted, and is given to hardworking people, including the elderly and disabled, who need short-term financial aid. Half of the unsolicited thank you notes they have received proclaim: “You’ve restored my faith in humanity.”
Ratzker shared, “The look on people’s faces when I told them their loan had been paid off was priceless.” The only requirement is that people “pay it forward,” in any way they choose, through acts of kindness.
Greg said he never meets the recipients, “It’s just about giving from the heart and promoting goodness.” Watching Zoom videos of the reactions of the recipients when they are called and notified that their loan has been forgiven “brings tears.”
After witnessing the tears of joy from her work with HFLNJ, Ratzker now looks forward to The Change Reaction initiating a chain reaction of kindness, inspiring others to adopt its views on direct giving and help spread kindness and goodness throughout the world.
The Change Reaction’s philosophy has already spread; a friend of Ratzker’s offered to pay off people’s loans, followed by several HFLNJ board members, sharing the mitzvah of charitable giving with more and more lucky and deserving recipients.
HFLNJ can be found on social media and appreciates the recommendation of previous borrowers and rabbis in the communities they serve.
For further information, go to www.hebrewfreeloanofnewjersey.org, www.jfedgmw.org, or www.jewishheartnj.org. To reach Malkie Ratzker directly, email [email protected] or call Malkie at
973-637-1739. Every loan is confidential.