Interest-Free, Steeped In Tradition

March 12, 2009

Author: Kristin E. Holmes

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

In tough economic times, a centuries-old financial lifeline might be one of the best-kept secrets in the Jewish community.

It is a secret whose roots go back to the Torah, where it is called an act of "loving kindness."

When rent is due or tuition is short, there are loans available for thousands of dollars - interest free.

The programs are part of a tradition in the Jewish community of offering loans without interest to people in need. The money has helped families adopt babies, a woman buy a pacemaker, and immigrants start a new life.

"I was going to Israel, and I just needed some extra money," said Yaron Gola of Northeast Philadelphia. "It was a tremendous blessing. It makes you feel a part of a community."

About 50 groups in the United States and abroad lend millions in interest-free loans each year, said Mark Meltzer, past president and cofounder of the International Association of Hebrew Free Loans.

In the region, the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia in Elkins Park and the Chaya Mushka Lubavitcher G'Milus Chesed in Northeast Philadelphia are two of the independent organizations that carry on the tradition. Both provide loans in the five-county Philadelphia area. The Elkins Park group also serves South Jersey.

Jewish nonprofit groups also offer small interest-free loans, often for educational pursuits.

It is viewed as a mitzvah, a good deed, said Rabbi Zalman Lipsker, director of the Lubavitcher fund. In fact, G'Milus Chesed translates to "deed of loving kindness" in Hebrew.