At a gala brunch on Nov. 4, DC resident Linda Lourie will be honored for her role in the revitalization of a community resource that has been around for more than 100 years.
When the Hebrew Free Loan Association was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1909, the city was vastly different from what it is today. From 1880 to 1920, the city’s Jewish population grew from approximately 1,500 to 10,000 people. Most of this increase was due to immigration from Eastern Europe, and most of the newcomers wanted to open shops, grocery stores, and other retail establishments. They looked to the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington (HFLAGW), for loans to help them get started as they acclimated to their new country.
Today, the DC metropolitan area — which for HFLAGW stretches from Northern Virginia to just south of Baltimore — has approximately 300,000 Jews engaged in all professions and vocations, and the need for interest-free loans is growing.
In 2011, Lourie, an attorney and long-time member of Kesher Israel in Georgetown, recognized this communal need and was surprised to find that the HFLAGW was struggling to find borrowers for their funds. They were giving fewer than 10 loans a year with an average of $7,000 per loan. It seemed that the existence of this resource had faded from public view, and the association was debating whether to close.
At that point, Lourie joined the board of directors and urged the leadership to hire an executive director, try new avenues of publicity, extend the association’s presence on the internet, and modernize much of its practice. Thanks in great part to her efforts, in 2017 the HFLAGW extended loans worth more than $116,000, and in 2018 is poised to exceed that total by more than $50,000. Loan maximums have grown to $25,000 per lender.
HFLAGW’s loans have helped people pay down medical expenses, erase credit card debt, adopt a beautiful baby girl, start businesses, pay for college tuition, and cover the costs of a funeral.
Requirements for loans are that the borrower be Jewish, be able to repay the loan, and have two to three guarantors, depending on the size of the loan.
In the last several years, HFLAGW has partnered with Yad Yehuda to help extend its reach. Yad Yehuda, an organization that provides a financial safety net for Jewish community members, helps vet potential borrowers and serves as one guarantor for loans. The partnership helps free up Yad Yehuda’s funds for direct assistance and increases HFLAGW’s ability to help the community.
HFLAGW is continually considering new projects to help the community, and in the next few years hopes to begin a small emergency loans program for payment of such urgent needs as rent and phone bills for people living paycheck to paycheck, with loans generally given within 48 hours.
“We are always open to new opportunities to assist our community,” said Fran Kritz, the current president of HFLAGW. “We are especially proud of the opportunity to occasionally administer loans for synagogues who want to use dedicated funds to assist members in need but need our help to make sure the loan is repaid.”
The brunch honoring Lourie will be held at Adas Israel Congregation, 2850 Quebec Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. at 11 a.m., with special remarks from Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of American University and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and food provided by O’Fishel Caterers.