ripples repaid

Embracing tech to spur economic justice and global Jewish connectivity

In Short

The impact of the relationships facilitated by SparkIL — relationships stretching across continents and oceans — will endure well beyond the day when our partner repays the loan. 

In 1965, four years before program-related investments (PRIs) were codified in the U.S. Tax Code, Max Fisher rallied 11 American life insurance companies to craft a $50 million loan to the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and The Jewish Agency for Israel to, in his words “save lives, and to build lives.”

Backed by the good faith and credit of the American Jewish community, this unprecedented support contributed toward the global efforts of the UJA and The Jewish Agency to help more than 3 million distressed Jews on practically every continent. With the cash needed immediately to do the work, the fundraising teams had the time they needed to raise the funds to pay back the 15-year loan.

At its core, the loan was not about what we might call “charity” in the U.S. Instead, it was centered in tzedek – justice. Providing resources to back up those who were dedicated to the work of repairing the world through assisting Jews who needed critical help — that was truly justice work.

The team’s spirit of ingenuity and justice that brought about the historic loan is reflected in the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation’s recent three-year, $600,000 commitment to SparkIL, bringing our total support for the venture to $1.1 million. 

Established in collaboration with The Jewish Agency for Israel and The Ogen Group, SparkIL enables people from around the world to participate in crowdfunding interest-free loans that make a real, measurable and continuing impact across Israel. 

SparkIL lenders explore various business opportunities that empower them to make an impact on Israeli society through support that speaks to their aspirations, passions and values. After repayment of their loan, they can choose to redeem it or reinvest their money into other worthy business owners and entrepreneurs — ensuring their initial loan has ripple effects indefinitely. 

Along with SparkIL’s economic mission, the relationships and connections made between Jews around the world and those working in Israel are equally important. 

I witnessed the strength of connections firsthand with our trustees David Sherman and Alissandra Aronow, and Lisa Soble Siegmann from our staff team, when we visited Ziva Mizrachi, a single mother who owns a jewelry store called Hoshen in Jerusalem. 

The COVID-19 pandemic severely strained her business, and while Ziva already had access to funds from commercial lenders, she needed additional flexible capital quickly to stay open. A loan from SparkIL provided the necessary, catalytic amount of money to help her navigate challenging times, enabling her to bring in sufficient inventory and stay afloat.

Ziva describes the store as her “baby.” Her literal daughter walked into Hoshen while we were there, together with SparkIL CEO Na’ama Ore. Ziva had the opportunity to tell her daughter, “These are the people who helped make the loan happen.” In turn, Na’ama and I thanked Ziva and her daughter, who works at the store, for allowing us to be a part of their growth.

These relationships underscore how at its core, SparkIL ignites connectivity. When we were approached about this first-of-its-kind platform for creating new connections between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, our committee felt the support was a no-brainer. The impact of the relationships facilitated by SparkIL — relationships stretching across continents and oceans — will endure well beyond the day when our partner repays the loan. 

With the progress the SparkIL team has made over the last few years with our funding partners — for funding operations, The Jewish Agency, The Ogen Group, the Kirsh Foundation, the Mack Ness Fund, UJA-Federation of New York and the Riklis family; and for risk cushions, The Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh — the platform is up and running and we’ve proven it works.

As we make further progress on the policy and technological changes necessary to bring SparkIL to scale, additional second-phase core funders will likely be needed to work alongside our teams to bring the full vision of this relationship and loan generator to its maximum potential for our global Jewish community.

Innovations like SparkIL take advantage of the newest technology (crowdfunding platforms) to ignite the oldest and most basic of human needs – to be connected. 

Doug Bitonti Stewart is the executive director of the Detroit-based Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation.