The concept of Hebrew Free Loans has been a part of Jewish Vancouver for over 100 years. The original Vancouver Hebrew Free Loan Association (VHFLA) was established in January 1915 and lasted until the 1937.

A similar organization, the Achdut Society, was started in 1927 and lasted until the early 1960’s. In 1979, the Hebrew Assistance Association (HAA) was established using the principles of the VHFLA: to provide interest-free loans in the Jewish community. In 2004, in conjunction with the Association’s 25th anniversary, HAA was renamed the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Vancouver (HFLA).

Since 1979, we have granted over 1,900 loans totalling more than $5 million. Our loans are character loans, granted though a process that involves members of the Jewish community to vouch for each other and help each other. As a result, HFLA has a default rate much lower than commercial lenders.

Our organization operates efficiently — we sublet a desk in an office at the JCC and we rely largely on our working board plus a part-time administrator. HFLA of Vancouver has never been a beneficiary of Federation or the United Way and as such, we have relieved these organizations of some financial burden by providing loans, many of which would otherwise have been welfare grants. Most importantly, we have allowed so many in our community to retain their dignity with a “hand up”, not a “hand-out”, in difficult circumstances.

Members of the Kol Halev performance troupe, who represented the Jewish community at the time of Hebrew Free Loan Association’s founding 100 years ago. (photo by Dan Poh)

Jews in Vancouver have been helping each other with loans for over a century, in order to achieve the highest level of tzedakah, according to Maimonides. “The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make them self-reliant.”

HFLA’s mission is exactly what Maimonides refered to. We do not make financial gifts or grants, our loans are made to those in our community who are in need of a loan and have the ability to repay. We help people avoid poverty with a potentially life changing loan.