Mom-and-Pop Hasidic Businesses Get Big Boost From Small Financing

Hebrew Free Loan Society Uses Third-World Tool in New York

Shop Proud: Tzvi Rosenbaum is planning to expand his grocery store in Brooklyn’s Boro Park neighborhood.
claudio papapietro
Shop Proud: Tzvi Rosenbaum is planning to expand his grocery store in Brooklyn’s Boro Park neighborhood.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 29, 2013, issue of August 02, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Blum’s husband, Joel, a member of the Kashau Hasidic group, works as a nurse. Her father was a diamond cutter before the diamond jobs disappeared. She herself worked at a Boro Park shoe store after graduating from a Satmar high school. Now 35 years old and a stylish mother of five, she is ambitious.

Soon after her first success selling the stranger’s garments, Blum sketched out some designs of her own, found a fabric supplier and had a run of skirts made. They sold. She was in business.

Blum’s skirts are simple. Most are gray or black with pleated fronts. At a recent show on the third floor of a Williamsburg wedding hall full of Satmar women and their toddlers, Yides Blum was displaying dozens of skirts on six or seven racks. It was the last sale before summer camp, and Blum was selling one seasonal skirt with leopard-print running down the side, a bit of flash that would never have flown at school.

Yides Blum started her business with a small loan from her family and the help of her good-natured husband, who carries her clothes racks up and down the stairs. A year ago, however, one of their children got sick, and the business suffered. Needing help, Blum found an ad in a local Orthodox newspaper, offering free business loans to the “heimishe community,” a Yiddish term connoting the Hasidim.

HFLS had placed the ad, but the copy included the name of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, a local community group run by the leadership of the Satmar Hasidic sect. Blum had never heard of HFLS, but she had heard of the UJO, and she reached out.

“That kind of opens the door for us,” said Shlomo Haft, the HFLS program officer responsible for the organization’s loans to Hasidic Jews, of the partnership with the UJO.

Haft, like the rest of the HFLS staff, is not Hasidic. Nor are the vast majority of HFLS’s financial backers. Founded in 1892 to help poor Russian Jewish immigrants establish themselves in the United States by extending interest-free credit, HFLS is today an agency of the UJA-Federation of New York.

Yet since 2008, HFLS has initiated a new focus on Hasidic businesses. The group calls it a microfinance program, an allusion to the global anti-poverty trend popularized by Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, which won a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for their micro-lending efforts in Bangladesh.

HFLS’s program differs in important ways from the Grameen Bank: Most significantly, while most microfinance banks charge interest, HFLS does not.

HFLS, in that sense, looks less like a microfinance bank than like a gemach, the communal free loan institutions still common in Hasidic neighborhoods. Yet while the gemachs are usually relatively informal, HFLS’s process is rigorous.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.