Hebrew Free Loan Detroit (HFL) continues its 125-year mission of helping Jews across Michigan by providing interest-free loans to improve lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, HFL has not missed a beat, maintaining its full staff with no furloughs or federal loans. Board members and staff continue to be engaged in reviewing, interviewing and disbursing loans to applicants to address a variety of needs.

The 1952 original building marker from Temple Beth Shalom (when it launched in Ishpeming)

Currently, HFL oversees a total outstanding loan portfolio of more than $15.3 million to more than 1,430 borrowers. An amazing thing about HFL’s resources (from 1895 through the current day) is that loans are repaid at more than a 98.5 percent rate. That recycling factor, as well as the generous, additional support of donors, foundations and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, has allowed HFL to expand its loan capital pool and the ways in which these interest-free loans generate positive impact. One great example is HFL’s Michigan Jewish Organization Loan Program (MJOLP).

The Michigan Jewish Organization Loan Program (MJOLP) was launched by HFL in 2017, in partnership with a generous matching grant from The Ravitz Foundation. HFL’s MJOLP provides interest-free loans up to $100,000 to qualifying Michigan synagogues and other Jewish organizations that provide their services primarily or solely to Jewish clients. These dollars may pay for capital projects, to build capacity while multi-year pledges are being paid or to cover cash-flow challenges of one type or another. The MJOLP resources are not designed to address debt, and the Jewish organization or synagogue must clearly show how they will fully repay the loan with regular monthly amounts.

New Adat Shalom HVAC system procured with help from Hebrew Free Loan

The maximum repayment deadline for MJOLP loans is two years for loans up to $50,000 and three years for loans up to $100,000. All HFL loans must have cosigners to cover repayment if the organization is unable to do so. To date, HFL has disbursed eight MJOLP loans to Jewish organizations and synagogues from Metro Detroit to Marquette for a total of $700,000. Carolyn Tisdale, HFL board president, has seen the impact from the MJOLP. “From the Upper Peninsula to the west side of Michigan to our metro-Detroit area, MJOLP loans have truly made a difference in the financial well-being of many Jewish organizations, enabling them to serve their local Jewish communities effectively, without worrying about where they would obtain financing for capital needs or having to repay high interest rate loans.” Two of these loans have been fully repaid, and two more organizations are preparing MJOLP applications before year-end.

As with all HFL loans, there is an application process with a requirement to show financial documents, proof of commitment and ability to repay, cosigner authorization, followed by an interview with HFL’s board leaders. During COVID-19, these steps have all been done remotely and by Zoom, but there is a growing awareness about HFL’s MJOLP resource, and demand is increasing. According to David Kramer, HFL board president-elect and co-chair of the MJOLP, “In these challenging and uncertain times, Jewish organizations including synagogues and communal institutions are reaching out to HFL to assist with loans to cover short term cash intensive commitments such as repairs, acquisition costs, or outlays for expansion of services because they can repay those loans over time as cash flows into the organization.”

MJOLP loans have funded repairs and replacements of roofs, HVAC systems, parking lots, elevators, bathrooms and other capital projects where the immediate cash-flow is needed for construction or operations. Per David Contorer, HFL executive director, “HFL’s MJOLP resource is a vital supplement to complement foundation grants and other types of fundraising, as many of these projects are not ‘sexy’ things that a donor will want to name.”

Cary Gottlieb, board treasurer of Temple Beth Sholom in Marquette, shares the story of how their synagogue benefited. “We had the opportunity to purchase a building that could house our congregation, Temple Beth Sholom, closer to our small Jewish community (which shifted geographically over the 50 years since we built our first Temple) and which would be a more glorious home. We started a capital campaign and found enough money to make this a reality. Our problem was the money was pledged, but we needed “real” money for the actual purchase, renovations, and moving in the time frame the building was available. The bottom line: We needed a source of funds for a short-term loan that would not add additional costs to the Temple. One of our board members knew of Hebrew Free Loan and suggested we explore that as an option. We made initial inquires, filled out some papers, and, seemingly magically, we had an interest-free, short-term loan, which allowed us to move into our new-to-us one hundred-year-old building. The process of getting the loan was so simple that now, four years later, I don’t even recall the process. It was that easy. We are very grateful to the HFL and the opportunity they allowed us to pursue.”

The original stained-glass windows were brought to Marquette for the new synagogue building 

Dr. Sanford J. (Sandy) Vieder, immediate past president of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, recounts this about HFL’s MJOLP. Adat Shalom Synagogue benefited from the incredible MJOLP program during a time when cash flow did not align with expenses related to significant infrastructure updates to our beautiful 46 year-old spiritual home. Early in 2017, the synagogue leadership embarked upon building updates which included replacement of the original boiler, HVAC system and conversion to cost efficient and improved LED lighting throughout the building. To take advantage of the economies of scale, we needed some short-term financial assistance as we had already cut through available cash reserves. Like most other Jewish organizations, we are dependent upon the incredible generosity of our membership, but in this circumstance, generous pledges and usual operating revenues did not chronologically align with infrastructure expenditures. The MJOLP allowed Adat Shalom to bridge the gap with this incredible program, designed specifically for situations like ours. The process of application was thorough, yet not onerous and was quickly and professionally handled by the HFL leadership. Adat Shalom is grateful for this program.”

The MJOLP is an exciting and impactful loan program that HFL’s leaders see as one that will be in increased demand. These interest-free loans enhance Jewish life not only in Metro Detroit but in communities across Michigan—many in places that don’t have a capital-needs fund or other sizable resources to tap. Carole Shifman, executive vice president of The Ravitz Foundation says, “I’m so pleased the program is such a success. HFL came up with something these organizations truly need.” As with all of HFL’s loans, the goal is to help the recipient to help himself/ herself/ itself; it is a loan and not a grant or a handout, and the dollars must be repaid. So, qualifying Jewish organizations and their leaders know that they must have skin in the game for loan repayment while partnering with HFL to accomplish their goals.

Jewish organizations and synagogues across Michigan that are interested in learning more about the MJOLP should contact David Contorer at HFL, dcontorer@hfldetroit.org.

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