As I sat at the Western Reserve Historical Society reading through log books dating back to the first decade of the last century, it amazed me how one organization could remain so relevant, even 112 years later. The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Northeast Ohio’s core belief that people would rather have a hand up than a handout continues to inspire the more than 26,000 recipients of our interest-free loans.


Our model of lending small amounts of money interest free to those who cannot qualify for conventional bank loans still raises eyebrows in some sectors, with people not understanding how we manage to operate. Even after economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for establishing micro lending in Bangladesh beginning in 1976, our non-sectarian lending and our interest-free model continue to “fly under the radar,” although we started more than 70 years before Grameen Bank. Perhaps the reason is that most people do not perceive the need for our services. We are not incorporated as a bank, and our community would prefer to believe that we do not have the same needs as a developing country like Bangladesh.

The truth is, however, that many immigrants and refugees, today, have the same challenges that inspired five local Jewish businessmen to found the HFLA in 1904 – like today, many immigrants, then, were fleeing violence and a lack of opportunity in their homelands, arriving in Northeast Ohio with very little. Our interest-free loans empowered those newcomers to buy horses and pushcarts to sell wares and start businesses and support their families. Today, when people arrive from other countries to Northeast Ohio, they do not have established credit and often cannot access funds to help them pursue education, start businesses, purchase a car or find the financial support to overcome hurdles along the way. Independent transportation or a licensing exam fee can be the difference between having a job and being unemployed; access to the cost of first month’s rent and security deposit can mean the difference between a roof over one’s head and homelessness; funds for education empowers someone to start a career.

Pewee Sumo moved to Cleveland from Liberia on the Resettlement Program. He received support from community here, but he needed funds to do an STNA (State Tested Nurse Assistant) course in order to start working. HFLA helped with an interest free loan. After Pewee repaid the first loan, he came back to us for help to purchase a car to allow him to get to work, and pursue higher education. This month Pewee graduated from nursing school and has become a licensed practicing nurse, an LPN.

This is where HFLA comes in.

Following Biblical precepts (Exodus 22:24), we provide interest-free loans to people in need, who, typically, would not qualify for conventional bank loans. Ours is a population whom banks consider to be “high risk,” yet our default rate less than 3%. How do we do this? We listen to people and try to understand their story. We look together with them at their income and expenses, we create a relationship, and make a loan based on our belief that they will repay so the next person in need will have access to these funds.

For additional information on how we can help, call 216-378-9042 or visit our website,