As Maimonides teaches, the greatest level of Tzedakah is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan in order to strengthen his hand. This was the guiding principle of Vancouver’s first free loan organization when it was established over 100 years ago and it remains the basis of the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Vancouver’s mandate today.
Most Jewish immigrants who came to Vancouver in the early 20th century did so with very little in terms of financial means. They were, however, fortunate to come to a community with a deep appreciation for the Jewish ideal of Gemilut Chesed (acts of loving kindness) where people were committed to helping eachother succeed. This was best exemplified in the “Hebrew Free Loan Association” which was established in 1915 to offer interest free loans to members of the Jewish community. The Association quickly became one of the leading grassroots community organizations to help immigrants establish themselves in their new country.
In 1927, a second loan association known as the “Vancouver Achduth Cooperative Society” was established. By the mid-1930’s, they were the leading low cost loan association in Vancouver and the original “Hebrew Free Loan Association” disbanded. This new society continued to offer help to those in need but marketed itself as a fraternal benefit society rather than a society whose goal was to aid or offer relief to struggling immigrants. The leaders of the new Achduth Society were determined to avoid the notion that their organization was a charitable one and focused instead on the mutual benefit aspect of being a part of their cooperative society. Borrowers were required to buy membership shares in the organization before benefiting from the loan privileges accorded to its members. This method proved successful as it allowed people to be both a lender and a borrower at the same time which ultimately allowed them to maintain their dignity.
In the 1950’s it became evident that the Achduth’s original approach was not in touch with the needs of the changing Jewish community and in an effort to continue to be of benefit, they began to change their messaging. Membership share requirements were relaxed, loan limits were raised and funds were made more readily available to those who could demonstrate legitimate need. Unfortunately, while the Society continued to provide a valuable community service, it failed to maintain a significant presence in the community. The organization ceased operations in 1966.
In the late 1970’s, Shirley Barnett who was President of Jewish Family Services at the time, presented the idea of re-establishing a Jewish free loan society to her board. There was wide-spread support for the idea and community leaders like Joe Segal, Jack Diamond, Morris Wosk and Leon Kahn joined Shirley in her efforts by providing the initial capital for the loan fund.
The new loan agency would operate separately from Jewish Family Service as the “Hebrew Assistance Association” (HAA) and its mandate would be based on a combination of the ideals of the first Hebrew Free Loan Association and the Achduth Cooperative Society; it would focus on interest free lending as the original organization had but would base its marketing emphasis on the ideals of self-reliance the way the Achudth cooperation did. The combination of approaches proved successful.
In 2004, in conjunction with the Association’s 25th anniversary, HAA was renamed the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Vancouver (HFLA).
In the 40 years since the loan organization was re-established, we have granted over 1,900 loans totaling more than $5 million. In that time we have helped countless people better their lives by providing them with a hand up.
Our successes have been made possible due to the leadership of an incredible group of volunteer Board members and a very committed donor base whose support has allowed our loan fund to continue to grow. All of these people have chosen to support HFLA because of their belief that Jewish people are responsible for one another and they exemplify one of the highest mitzvot in our tradition in time and action.
Photo of Shirley Barnett from HFLA's archives
Photo of Joseph Segal from HFLA's archives
Photo of Jack Diamond from HFLA's archives
Photo of Morris Wosk from HFLA's archives
Photo of Leon Kahn from HFLA's archives
Photo of Ben Dayson from HFLA's archives