Exact No Interest From Them - February 9, 2024

The Super Bowl is this Sunday with the Kansas City Chiefs playing the San Francisco 49ers. Sadly, for the first time in many years there are no Jewish players represented in the game. Here is an article about Jewish players who have won a Super Bowl or an NFL Championship.


One key to the Super Bowl is the commercials. This year, the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, supported by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, will have a 30-second "Stop the Hate" ad. Clarence Jones, who helped Martin Luther King Jr. in writing his "I Have A Dream Speech," will be in the commercial.


A parenting lesson -- It was the 1980 Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams. Living on the east coast, my family always ate dinner prior to the game. For whatever reason, my parents made my most hated food – parsnips. They were clear -- I could not watch the game until I ate one tiny slice of parsnip. I was 10 years old, loved football, yet sat at the table crying hysterically over this small piece of vegetable and literally missed the entire first half of the game. At halftime, I finally ate the parsnip, got sick, and vowed to never eat one again. I also promised I would never force my child to eat any food they did not want to eat.



This is always one of my favorite Marc’s Remarks to write. This week is International Jewish Free Loan Shabbat, a time to learn about and honor the work of Jewish Free Loan organizations around the world. These special groups provide confidential interest-free loans to support Jews needing a “hand up” instead of a “hand out.”


I am very proud that seven years ago the Jewish Federation started the Jewish Free Loan of Greater Oregon (JFLGO). Our work is rooted in a Jewish tradition that sees helping people build a secure financial future as the highest form of relief. Since its inception, JFLGO has approved 120 interest-free loans (up to $5,000/loan) totaling over $325,000! Over one-third of the loans have already been repaid in full. As people repay additional funds become available to make new loans.


Our loans have helped people address an array of needs and minimize or avoid their incurring interest-bearing debt. Our loans include support for medical and utility bills, home and car repairs, Jewish day school tuition and Jewish summer camp fees, debt consolidation, IVF support, college expenses, small business startup capital, rental assistance, and even weddings, just to name a few. Every person is met with understanding, dignity, confidentiality, and the sincere desire to help.


The foundation for Jewish Free Loans is found in a verse from this week’s Torah portion, MishpatimMishpatim lays out the laws that govern our individual responsibilities to each other. It is a “how to” manual for creating a caring, just, and functional society.


It says, “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them” (Exodus 22:24). The concept of free loans builds on Maimonides’s teaching that the highest form of tzedakah is to help a person help themself. Maimonides wrote, “The greatest level of charity, with nothing higher, is to strengthen the hand of a weakened Jew, giving him a present or a loan or starting a partnership, or giving him work.”


We might think that helping a needy person with charity would be an even greater kindness, but our tradition clearly indicates the opposite. Giving a loan is considered a greater mitzvah than giving charity, so much so that the Hebrew word for a free loan is a “gemach” – an acronym for “gemilut chasadim,” meaning “granting kindness.” The giving of a loan is the basic act of mutual aid in Judaism.


I recently read the story of a man caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we will paddle to safety.” “No thanks,” replied the man. “I’ve prayed for help, and I’m sure it will come.”


A short time later the police came by in a boat. “Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.” “No thanks,” replied the man. “I’ve prayed, and I’m sure I will be saved.” Eventually a rescue helicopter hovered overhead “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we will fly you to safety.” “No thanks,” replied the man. “I’ve prayed for help, and I’m sure it will come.”


All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the man drowned. When he arrived in heaven, he demanded an audience with God. “Why am I dead? I prayed for help to save me.” “Yes, you did,” replied God, “and I heard you. Who do you think sent you the canoe, the boat, and the helicopter?”


Actions matter. St. Augustine, a fourth century Catholic theologian said, “Pray as if everything depended on God, act as if everything depended on you.” Our Jewish Free Loan program enables the borrower to take charge of their own life.


If you are in need of an interest-free loan (for both the "joys and oys" in life), please click here. If you are interested in donating to our Jewish Free Loan program to increase the number of loans available, please click here. Both are a wonderful mitzvah.


Shabbat shalom, enjoy the Super Bowl, and, please, no parsnips.



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