Philanthropy for the Masses: The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Montreal

The Hebrew Free Loan Association (HFLA) was founded in 1911 by Zigmund Fineberg, a Polish-born businessman. Motivated by the unprecedented wave of immigration between 1905-1913, the association’s goal was to help the most disadvantaged by enabling them to obtain interest-free loans. Based on the Jewish religious precept of “Gemiluth Chasodim” (acts of loving kindness), the HFLA sought to replace charity with loans that would allow beneficiaries to retain their dignity and honour.

Serving as a tribute to over a hundred years of philanthropy, the HFLA materials now reside with the Jewish Public Library Archives. These ledgers, loan registers, and minute books document the association’s mandate of giving, as well as the various ways their support bolstered the community. The pages reveal how loans provided newcomers with the necessary capital to gain their footing, plan family celebrations, and start small businesses. Granting over six-hundred loans a year, the association has a major impact on the growth of community.

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