Congregations offering loans and grants to lure young families


They were looking to move anyway, said Stephanie Butler. And the $50,000 incentive being offered by Temple Emanu-El in Dothan, Ala., to young Jewish families willing to relocate helped tip the scales.

“We never would have looked at Dothan if not for this program,” she said.

The Reform congregation in Dothan is one of several dozen synagogues nationwide offering loans, grants and a variety of other incentives to attract young families to their communities. In addition to the loans, which are usually tied to down payments on a house and can turn into grants if the families stay long enough, most of these synagogues help newcomers to find jobs and direct them to friendly lawyers, contractors and mortgage brokers who often give them steep discounts.

Dothan’s $50,000 relocation loan, which becomes a grant after five years, is one of the most generous offers. But rural Alabama is a harder draw than, say, Southfield, Mich., where the local Young Israel congregation is offering young couples a $7,200 five-year, interest-free loan toward a down payment on a home.

Just three families have taken up Dothan’s offer, and one has since moved away. Twenty-two families have moved to Southfield, a heavily Jewish suburb of Detroit. Only five took advantage of the loan program.

Most of these relocation incentive programs began in the past several years. Some have been more successful than others, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much money they’re offering. Those who have made the move mention geographic desirability, the availability of jobs, and the attractiveness of the local Jewish community much more than they mention the money.

“The money is to show we’re excited about people coming to the community, but it’s a small part of what we do to attract families,” said Rabbi Yechiel Morris, spiritual leader of Young Israel of Southfield.

Another factor is also at play. Unlike Dothan’s Reform congregation, virtually all the others offering such incentives are Orthodox. Orthodox families moving to a new neighborhood look for homes within walking distance of the synagogue and expect to become actively involved in local Jewish life.

Jews moving to Dothan go through an extensive vetting process, including personal visits, and they sign forms pledging to join the congregation and to remain in town for at least five years.

“This is about fit,” said Robert Goldsmith, executive director of the Family Relocation Project of the Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services of Dothan. The goal of the project is to bring in 20 Jewish families by 2015 with incentive packages of up to $50,000 each. “We’re not buying Jews here with a blank check.”

Temple Emanu-El was down to 43 families when donor Larry Blumberg established the project in the fall of 2007, soon after Goldsmith and his wife, Lynne, the congregation’s new rabbi, moved to town. “We didn’t want to shut our doors, like other small congregations,” he said.

The Associated Press ran a story on the incentives program, followed by spots on the Jay Leno and Howard Stern shows. Thousands of inquiries poured in from around the world. “We had 100,000 hits in one day,” Goldsmith said. “It crashed our server.”

But few candidates have gone the distance with the program. The first family that responded, arriving in early 2009, moved away when the husband was laid off. “The recession has hurt us,” Goldsmith said.
In response, the congregation switched focus, reaching out to empty nesters through a series of ads placed in Hadassah, Moment and Reform Judaism magazines. Currently, 11 older couples are partway through the application process; one couple is expected to move in soon.

Jews willing to move to Dothan “need an adventurous spirit,” said Goldsmith. That’s less true of those who move to Oceanside, N.Y., a Long Island community with a large, active Young Israel congregation located 15 minutes from the heavily Jewish Five Towns area.

With 180 families, Young Israel of Oceanside is far from endangered. But the congregation wants to boost its number of young families, said Rabbi Jonathan Muskat.

In 2007, the synagogue rolled out a rich incentive program capped by a $30,000 interest-free loan that becomes a grant after 10 years. The first five couples that moved in that year got the full amount. The next five received $20,000, and the final cohort got $10,000. Altogether, 35 new families moved into the community, many without any financial incentive at all.

Jake and Nomi Weinberg were part of the first cohort, moving in three years ago from nearby Woodmere, N.Y. They had two children at the time; now, they have three.

The loan “was definitely a draw,” said 32-year-old Jake Weinberg. But they would have moved to Oceanside anyway, he said, adding, “No one should move just for a down payment.”

Muskat echoes that sentiment. Young Israel of Oceanside offers the incentive only to couples likely to take on leadership roles in the congregation, the rabbi said. Virtually all of the new families come from large Orthodox congregations in the Greater New York area. The real draw, Muskat said, is being part of a younger congregation where they can make a difference right away.
Weinberg agrees. “You don’t get lost in the shuffle,” he said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to have your voice heard. It’s not like a big shul, where you have to be there years and years and donate a lot of money before you can do anything.”

In an effort to showcase communities for families seeking to relocate, the Orthodox Union sponsored its first Emerging Communities Conference in New York in 2008. Fourteen congregations set up booths at that first conference. Thirty-five have registered for the third conference on March 22, including shuls from cities as large as Phoenix and Las Vegas, and as small as Chesterfield, Mo. and Norfolk, Va.

“It sows the seeds,” said Frank Buchweitz, national director of community services for the OU. “People don’t even know there are Jewish communities outside the New York area.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Josh Elberg and his wife, Naomi Preminger, 27, moved from Montreal to Southfield, Mich., after meeting Young Israel members Monica and Ari Fischman at the 2009 OU conference.
“We spoke to them; we felt them out,” said Monica Fischman. More important, said Elberg, the Fischmans followed up.

“We found some very nice communities at the conference – Houston, Dallas, Denver, Memphis, St. Louis,” said Elberg. “I followed up with all of them, but the only ones who followed up consistently with us were from Southfield.”

That personal connection, not the $7,200 relocation loan, was what clinched the deal, he added. Last summer, the Fischmans hosted Elberg for a Shabbaton. They had a barbecue and introduced him to people, and Monica Fischman found the couple a house on the same street where her parents live.

Elberg is already living in Southfield, and his wife will follow with their three children after Passover.

“The loan made life easier,” Elberg said, “but if they hadn’t offered it, we wouldn’t have cared.”

As more and more congregations get into the incentives game, some poaching is bound to occur, particularly in the shul-heavy towns of northern New Jersey and the New York area.

Newsday recently ran a story on Dan and Atara Marzouk, who moved to Plainview, N.Y., last October, taking advantage of a $25,000 interest-free loan offered by the local Young Israel congregation.

But the Marzouks were moving away from Linden, N.J., where their home synagogue, Congregation Anshe Chesed, is also offering an incentive program to new families.

Rabbi Joshua Hess of Anshe Chesed doesn’t consider it poaching. He said that 15 young families have moved to Linden, and all have taken advantage of either the buyer’s or the renter’s incentive offer. Dan Marzouk had a two-and-a-half-hour daily commute to his job in Long Island, and even Hess told him the family needed to move. “It wasn’t sustainable,” the rabbi said.

Meanwhile, Anshe Chesed has only 17 younger families among its 115 member units, and the congregation is running out of funding for its incentive program.

“Once we have a critical mass, we won’t need it anymore,” Hess said. “The hope is that young couples will want to be here.”

Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;


L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

In Community We Trust


Alex Mylyavsky had been in Los Angeles for three months as a refugee from Kiev, Ukraine. He was looking for a job, but it was a vicious cycle: he couldn’t get a job without experience, but how could he get experience without a job? His heavy Russian accent worked against him, and he had no contacts in the business world. In addition, Mylyavsky knew he needed further education to advance.

For Mylyavsky, help arrived in the form of loans from the Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles (JFLA). Founded as the Hebrew Free Loan in 1904 by 10 local businessmen, the nonsectarian, nonprofit organization was based on the biblical imperative of interest-free lending to those in need: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor with you, you shall not be to them as a creditor” (Exodus 22:24). Although the nature of “need” has changed over the years, the concept behind JFLA remains the same.

“The Torah [exhorts] us to perform acts of lovingkindness,” said Evelyn Schecter, JFLA’s director of development. “Interest-free loans allow an individual to be independent and not have to receive charity. These are human beings who need help, and if they have the courage to walk through that door, we’re going to do whatever we can to get them the help they need.”

The actual process of obtaining a loan through JFLA is simple. It begins with an initial intake call to explain the purpose of the loan, the amount and other details. Next is a visit to JFLA’s offices to fill out paperwork and meet with a loan analyst. Some loans are restricted, while others serve a broad-based population — emergency loans of $1,500 to $2,000 are available to anyone, but student or adoption loans are available only to the Jewish community. All loans require one or two co-signers, with a portion of the principal to be paid back on a monthly basis. If the required criteria are met, the applicant may receive a loan within a week, sometimes sooner. The success of the program is borne out by a default rate of less than 1 percent.

Mylyavsky was lucky. Encouraged by his mentor and new employer, attorney Alan Rosen, Mylyavsky decided to enroll in a dual master’s program at Hebrew Union College’s School of Jewish Communal Service and USC’s School of Public Administration. His dream was to work with and for people and to learn more about what it meant to be a Jew.

The next step was securing a loan. Without one, graduate school was out of the question. Rosen agreed to co-sign the loan, and Mylyavsky met with Mark Meltzer, CEO and executive director of JFLA.

Mylyavsky said Meltzer played a key role in his loan saga. “It’s not only help to get a loan, it’s helping the individual to get financial stability, helping for this individual to be recognized by others by achieving successes,” he said. “In turn, by paying back the loan, this individual is making it possible for others who come later to receive a loan.”

“What we have at JFLA is a recycling of dollars,” Meltzer said. “The donors like it; the borrowers like it. The money is not lost in one gift; it keeps rotating around.”

After receiving his dual master’s in 1992, Mylyavsky worked with a company focused on international business. But in 1997, a friend approached him with an idea for a new business venture: state-sponsored adult day care. He knew by reading the brochure that this program was his dream come true: to give people the opportunity to be less isolated, to assist in the health of the elderly and to bring the immigrant community together.

The costs for this kind of program were enormous. For Mylyavsky to find the proper building and bring it up to code, not to mention hiring a large staff and providing transportation, would cost a fortune. But Mylyavsky didn’t hesitate to call JFLA.

In 1999, he received $20,000 — the largest amount for a business loan — to be paid off in monthly installments of $400 over 50 months. In June 1999, the building, newly renovated by Mylyavsky and his partners, was licensed by the state. By July, Universal Adult Day Health Care was open for business. The center was the first of its kind in the area, serving the immigrant populations of Marina del Rey, Santa Monica and Culver City.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I could have made it without JFLA,” Mylyavsky said, shaking his head. “In my case, without financial assistance, it was a ‘mission impossible.’ With JFLA, the mission became possible.”

For Ella Mirmova, also fromKiev, education wasn’t the issue. Few people could make clothes the way Mirmova could, but women from Beverly Hills didn’t like to travel to Hollywood, where she worked. The money she made from her home-based alteration business barely covered her expenses, and she had a mother and a young daughter to support. She worked as hard as she could, but it was never enough to move her business to where the customers were.

After four long years of working out of her home, a friend told Mirmova about JFLA’s business loans. The idea appealed to Mirmova; she would never take charity, but a loan was different.

“I was so sure I could do my business,” Mirmova recalled. “If I was not sure, I would never have tried to make a loan. I am a very responsible person. I had no other choice. I had no husband. I was a single mother. I did what I had to do.”

Mirmova was startled by JFLA’s quick response when it agreed to loan her $12,000.

Mirmova benefited from a concept called donor-directed loans that began in the early 1990s, part of an effort by Meltzer and his board of directors to modernize the agency. Instead of giving money generically, donors could choose programs that excited them or that they wished to create.

“What began to emerge was different donors who had specific interests,” Meltzer explained. “People like Newton Becker, who set up the Becker graduate student loan fund; the Baran family established the Baran small business loan fund because they were given a loan when their family first came here; David and Sylvia Weisz started the Entrepreneurial Loan Fund for young people who wanted to go into business with only an idea.” (See sidebar at left for list of donor-directed programs.)

The success of donor-directed funds during the past 10 years is reflected in the devoted core of supporters the organization enjoys. In addition, JFLA is a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the United Way, and various government grants. In 1999, public support and revenues amounted to $1.5 million dollars. Adding to that, recycled money — “accounts receivable” — coming back to the agency brought the total amount of loans going out into the community to $3.5 million out of total assets of $5 million, covering 1,200 loans that year. Today, JFLA’s assets stand at more than $7 million.

The history of Jewish Los Angeles unfolds in the minutes of the Hebrew Free Loan. In 1904, Eastern European Jews needed a jump-start on their new lives; loans were given for a sewing machine, a horse and cart, a paper route. By 1929, the organization was booming — loans had increased to a whopping $150 each. But by 1932, overwhelmed by the Depression, the agency had to whittle back loans to $75 for “those in dire need.”

In 1948, after years of takeover threats by larger social service agencies, the Hebrew Free Loan merged with the Jewish Loan and Housing Association to become the JFLA. Today, with a full-time staff of eight, the agency is considered one of the smallest Jewish social service agencies in town. In terms of scope,however, it’s one of the biggest: In its 97-year history, JFLA has reached out to more than 300,000 individuals and families.

Except for the amount, Mirmova’s loan was not so different from the first loans that came out of the Hebrew Free Loan at the beginning of the 20th century.

Mirmova put the money to work immediately, renting space in Beverly Hills, purchasing professional sewing machines, irons, hangers and equipment for steaming.

“I opened my business in a store with wide-open windows,” Mirmova said proudly. “Everyone from the street could see me work. The people started to come.”

As Mirmova is the first to point out, it wasn’t the windows that made her business successful. She has a talent for fitting few in the profession can match.

“I am the fitter here,” Mirmova said, putting the finishing touches on a vintage gown. “I work to make any figure better-looking. There’s no school for what I do — only emotion. I just feel it.”

Since Mirmova received her loan six years ago, she has paid it off, adding small donations to help others when she can. Her business, Modern Alterations in Beverly Hills, has grown tenfold. On any given day, her phone rings off the hook, and three to eight seamstresses work like whirling dervishes to fulfill a bursting schedule of alterations.

“JFLA gave me the chance, and I used this chance the best I could,” Mirmova said. “I will appreciate this for the rest of my life.”

If you had told Neal and Jennifer Geller eight years ago that they would be the first family to apply to the JFLA’s Lerner Family Adoption Loan program — started in 1997 to assist couples who wish to adopt or undergo fertility treatments — they would have looked at you as if you were a little crazy. It never crossed their minds that they would need help when it came to having children.

The Gellers, who married in 1993, were part of that privileged class of individuals who believed that by working hard and applying themselves, they could accomplish anything they set out to do. But they were left feeling frustrated and powerless after spending thousands on fertility treatments after they were unable to conceive. “All I wanted was to be a mom,” Jennifer said. “Was that too much to ask?”

After thousands of dollars out of pocket and two years of nonstop doctor’s appointments and treatments, the Gellers were emotionally and financially spent. They stopped the infertility roller coaster and decided to adopt.

“I felt better after making the decision. Now I had a purpose, a goal,” Jennifer said. “I’m a very goal-oriented person.”

The Gellers had started the process of adopting internationally when an adoption facilitator called them from New Mexico.

“I know you’re waiting for Romania,” the facilitator said, “but a young birth mother came to see me, and I have a really good feeling about her. Do you want me to submit your résumé?” (In private adoptions, birth mothers will read over several résumés to choose the parents.)

One morning the Gellers received a phone call from the facilitator saying she had someone who wanted to talk to them. Both Gellers sat at the speakerphone and listened while a squeaky young voice came over the receiver, “Hi,” she said. “Will you be the parents of my baby?” They didn’t hesitate: “Yes,” they both sobbed.

The Gellers were ecstatic, calling relatives and friends to tell them that they were going to be parents. But they would need money — and a lot of it — almost immediately. A typical domestic adoption through an agency or lawyer can cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Jennifer called the National Adoption Agency in Washington, who referred them to a woman in Northern California. This woman had grants for adoptions, but only for Northern Californians. Then the woman asked if they were Jewish. She knew an agency in Los Angeles that gave loans to people for adoption.

The next day the Gellers called JFLA. Schecter was enthusiastic, and “the ball rolled.”

“It happened so fast we couldn’t believe it,” Jennifer said. “No doubt, if it wasn’t for JFLA, we would have had to take a second [mortgage] on our house.”

“It wasn’t like a bank,” Neal recalled. “They trusted us; here was somebody who cared.”

Six months after they brought their son Adam home from the hospital, Schecter invited them to the annual JFLA fundraiser dinner to talk about their experience. Admiring donors held baby Adam, who slept through the speeches like a perfect little gentleman. Since then, 14 other adoptions have taken place, including one by a gay couple, plus two in-vitro fertilizations, aided by JFLA’s adoption loan program.

“Before, I was outside the club,” Jennifer said. “Now, I feel like a mom. We worship the ground Adam walks on. We wanted him so much!”

The Gellers are up for another first with the agency. If a private adoption comes through, they will be the first couple to apply to JFLA for a second adoption loan.

“What is need?” Meltzer asked, responding to a common misperception that Jewish people don’t need financial aid. “People come in with a need. It could be an Orthodox couple making good money but they have six children and one of them needs braces. … They wouldn’t be able to get help from any other source. Or a child with potential wants to go to a private college, but his parents are already paying for two other children. They may be well off but can’t afford the $35,000 a year for tuition. Why shouldn’t that child realize his potential?”

“We fool ourselves into thinking Jews today don’t need money,” Schecter added. “There is always the working poor, struggling from paycheck to paycheck, especially among the immigrant populations. By offering loans without interest, individuals maintain their dignity. They repay their loans, and they have accomplished something, and we have accomplished something.”

Reflecting on this accomplishment, Schecter displayed a stack of thank-you letters the organization receives yearly for their services. Some are typed, but a majority are written on special stationery in meticulous handwriting.

“Without JFLA, I have no idea how I would have gotten through all the hardships I’ve faced in the last two years,” one loan recipient confided. “Thank you for being there to catch me when I fell.”

JFLA Loans

The JFLA administers a growing number of donor-directed loan funds. Four officers handle these loans: Danielle Walsmith, undergraduate and graduate student loans and Israel experience; Evelyn Schecter, camp loans, adoption, and women and children in crisis; Sion Abrams, emergency loans; and Mark Meltzer, business loans.

Max Anna Baran Small Business Loan Fund

Weisz Family Entrepreneurial Loan fund

Sylvia David I.A. Fine Business Fund

Edward Meltzer Student Loan Fund for Undergraduate Students

Newton D. Rochelle F. Becker Graduate Student Loan Fund

Morris Doberne Campership Experience Loan Fund

Women Children in Crisis Loan fund

Lerner Family Adoption Assistance Fund

Kopelove Family Short-Term Home Healthcare Loan Fund

Iranian Emigre Loan Fund

Soviet Emigre Loan Fund

Rosslyn Katherine Gaines Loan Fund for Hearing ;Impaired Students

Newton D. Rochelle F. Becker Israel Experience Loan Fund

James Spada Loan fund for Persons with AIDS

ORT Student Loan Fund

Autistic Developmentally Disabled Childrens Loan Fund

The Jewish Free Loan Association is located in the Jewish Federation Building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 715, Los Angeles, CA 90048. For more information on obtaining a loan, call (323) 761-8830 or (818) 464-3331.