The recently announced winners of the Knesset Speaker’s Prize for Quality of Life include Prof. Eliezer Jaffe, founder of the Israel Free Loan Association. The Speaker’s Prize is awarded from a fund established 23 years ago “to promote and encourage improvements in quality of life in Israel”. Over the past 23 years the fund has allocated more than five million NIS to organizations and individuals that promote understanding and tolerance between different population sectors, seek to safeguard human rights, encourage environmental protection, road safety and educational activities.
A well-respected professor, Jaffe is one of the founders of the School of Social Work at the Hebrew University and referred to by many as Israel’s Dean of Philanthropy.
The Israel Free Loan Association set up in 1990, offers interest-free loans to new immigrants and veteran Israelis to meet a wide range of needs such as adapting a family’s living space to accommodate the special needs of a disabled family member, loans to develop small businesses or to set a failing business back on its feet following difficulties (such as those caused to many businesses in the north by the Second Lebanese War), student loans for disadvantaged young people entering higher education, and so on. The activities of the Association have helped tens of thousands of people over the years, filling a gap in the range of services to meet pressing needs. Since its inception the Association has awarded over 40 thousand loans, totaling more than 130 million US dollars. The return rate for these loans stands at 99%, a rate much higher than is the norm for bank loans, or loans from other financial institutions.
Largely due to the high personal standing of Prof. Jaffe and of all those involved who provide much needed, honest and devoted service, with a completely transparent financial management, the Association has acquired such a solid reputation that it attracts funds from a large number of generous donors and has therefore been able to reach out to so many.
In explaining their reasons for selecting this year’s recipients, The Prize Committee quoted the Rambam’s reference to the eight levels of charity, the highest being providing a person with the means to become self-supporting. They noted that rather than giving financial support, the Israel Free Loan Association allows the Association’s clients to take responsibility for their actions and their economic future, thus fulfilling the dictum of the Rambam.