HFLS Distributes Torah-Approved Aid. Anna Marx Once Received It

Anna Marx (Photo by Robin Matthews)

In the Torah, Exodus chapter 22 verse 24 states, “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act towards them as a creditor; exact no interest from them.”

The Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia repeats this passage on hflphilly.org. And since its 1984 founding, HFLS Philly has given out more than 2,000 interest-free loans “totaling over $3 million,” according to a recent news release. The money helps people pay for education, medical expenses, home repairs, start-up businesses and adoption, among other “areas of support.”

As a graduate student, Anna Marx received help from Hebrew Free Loan San Francisco, where she grew up. It’s the reason the now-Wynnewood resident wanted to take over as executive director of the Philadelphia society. That same news release announced her hiring on July 31.

“I had had my eye on this organization for a little while because I had such a positive experience,” Marx said.

In the 2000s, Marx was pursuing a graduate degree from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. She wanted to manage nonprofits. Her husband, Cantor Jamie Marx, was also working toward a graduate degree from the Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion.

The couple already had loans and scholarships. But they needed a little more assistance. Anna Marx does not remember how they heard about the Hebrew Free Loan Society. But they did, and they reached out.

The person who took care of them was “warm,” the executive director recalled.

“Really held our hands through the process,” she added.

Usually, a loan provider will give money directly to the school, according to Anna Marx. But in the couple’s experience with HFL San Francisco, the organization gave the cash to the borrower.

“It felt like we were being given trust and empowerment from our community,” she said.

They opened a credit card, charged their tuition to it and paid off the debt. The couple collected so many credit card points that they were able to fly home to see their families.

“It multiplied because we were given the ability to make decisions for ourselves,” Anna Marx said.

The 42-year-old is still paying off her federal student aid. But she has long since paid off her loan from HFL San Francisco.

Anna Marx has spent her career working for nonprofits. (Photo by Robin Matthews)

Anna Marx got her degree and started her career in nonprofit management. Early on, she did some consulting for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the New Orleans Jewish Day School. Jamie Marx became a cantor and ended up at Temple Sholom in Broomall in 2014.

The couple remains part of the shul community today. After the family moved to the Philadelphia area, Anna Marx became chief strategy officer of Jewish Learning Venture, a nonprofit that helps families deepen their Jewish lives. She spent more than six years in that role before starting her own firm, Anna Marx Consulting.

But a little over a year ago, she learned that the woman from HFL San Francisco who had helped them had died.

“I remember feeling sad,” she said.

Months later, Cheryl Barish Erlick retired after seven years as executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia. After the announcement, Anna Marx emailed Amy Krulik, the organization’s board president.

The longtime nonprofit leader said she would love to talk about the position because she had such a positive experience when she was younger. Krulik told Anna Marx to come to her office.

“There’s something so powerful about being able to give back to an organization. To allow an organization to advance and give more people help,” Krulik said.

The Hebrew Free Loan Society serves the five-county Philadelphia area and the four-county Cherry Hill region in South Jersey. Anna Marx’s vision is to raise more funds to help more people across all nine counties. She wants to focus on building deeper relationships with South Jersey institutions.

Krulik would like to see HFLS expand to Allentown, Lancaster, Delaware and more of South Jersey. The board president believes that Marx has the pitch.

“When she first met with me, she said I always knew if I wanted to work in the Jewish community, it would be with Hebrew Free Loan. Then she told the story,” Krulik said. “I could see how captivated everybody was by that.”

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