The HFLA Centennial Celebration

One hundred years of anything in Vancouver is fairly unusual. On May 7, 2016 the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Vancouver celebrated 100 years since it was originally founded.

In January 1915, the Vancouver HFLA held their inaugural meeting. Designed to give interest-free loans to Jewish people starting out in the community, the association played an integral part in helping establish many early Jewish businesses and helped people settle here.

The HFLA Centennial Celebration reflected its grassroots beginning with a relaxed, unique evening. Casual picnic-chic décor and a picnic-style menu went with the fact that the event was held on Lag b’Omer. Greeting the guests were actors and musicians from the volunteer troupe Kol Halev. They were dressed in period costume and introduced themselves in character, sharing “their personal stories” as the founders of Jewish lending in Vancouver.

Through a multi-media approach, the event managed to educate those in attendance about the valuable role that interest-free loans have played and continue to play in Vancouver’s Jewish community.

Beth Israel’s Rabbi Jonathan Infeld shared a d’var Torah, touching on the relationship between Lag b’Omer and interest-free lending. HFLA president Michelle Dodek followed, explaining the three objectives of the event: to raise awareness in the community by sharing what HFLA does, to honor the donors and board members who have made the work of the organization possible, and to look to the future.

Dodek’s speech was followed by a short video featuring two former borrowers, Mihael Mamychshvili, a prominent shiatsu therapist and Barbi Braude, a graphic designer. Joe Segal and Shirley Barnett shared their historical perspectives and goals for the organization.

Guests then heard from four borrowers whose lives were changed by the loans they received from HFLA. Successful entrepreneurs Zach Berman and Ryan Slater began their business, the Juice Truck, with help from HFLA. Val Lev Dolgin used an education loan to earn her master’s in counseling psychology; she now helps children who have survived physical and sexual abuse. George Medvedev, a neurologist, shared how he and his wife, a hematologist, used a loan to help them when they first arrived in Canada from the USSR almost 20 years ago.

Another story was read by a volunteer in order to respect the anonymity of the borrower because of the sensitive nature of her situation. And the story of former borrower Maxim Fomitchev was shared by his friend, Tobi Lennet. Briefly, Fomitchev, a deaf mime, while touring with his troupe of mime artists from the USSR in 1991, defected, accompanied by his performing partner. The two found themselves volunteering for the Jewish Family Service Agency and, within two years, Fomitchev borrowed money for a car to get from one mime gig to another. He has since achieved one of the pinnacles of success for a mime – he is the head clown in Cirque de Soleil’s Las Vegas show, Zarkana.

The HFLA Centennial Celebration was a chance to celebrate a significant milestone in the community, raise awareness of an organization that is “the best kept secret” in Vancouver while recognizing donors and volunteers who make it all happen. The message for the future is that HFLA is looking for borrowers.