Eliezer Jaffe dies at 83 after receiving Bonei Zion Prize

In 1990, Jaffe founded the Israel Free Loan Association which provided interest-free loans to new immigrants and needy people.

May 27, 2017 21:26
3 minute read.
ELIEZER JAFFE, founder and president of the Israel Free Loan Association, wants to help first-time h

ELIEZER JAFFE, founder and president of the Israel Free Loan Association, wants to help first-time home buyers with their down payments. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Eliezer Jaffe who made a profound impact on social work, nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in Israel died on Thursday at age 83.

Only nine days prior to his demise, Jaffe, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in November 1933, was one of the recipients of the Bonei Zion Prize awarded annually by Nefesh B’Nefesh to immigrants from English speaking countries in recognition of significant contributions they make to Israel.

Before making aliya in 1960, Jaffe first came to Israel in 1957 as a volunteer and worked in immigrant transit camps. This experience made a lasting impression on him.

It was almost painful for him to see people without resources, with minimal education, few skills and an inability to converse in Hebrew trying to make new lives for themselves in a country that encouraged immigration, but had an inadequate policy for immigrant absorption.

He returned to America to complete his education, then armed with degrees in sociology, psychology and criminology plus a doctorate in social work, from Yeshiva University in New York, Ohio State University and Western Reserve University he settled in Jerusalem, and became one of the founders of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work at the Hebrew University.

He specialized in child welfare research and policy.

Six years after making his permanent home in Israel’s capital, he was temporarily back in America, working as a visiting associate professor at Western Reserve University in 1966-67, and later in the same capacity at Cleveland State University in 1974-75.

In Israel, in addition to his work as an academic, Jaffe served as a consultant to the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality and also sat on several ministerial committees on different aspects of social welfare during the administrations of Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir. He was also a consultant to the Rothschild Foundation and to other foundations in Israel and abroad.

It saddened him that many philanthropists did not engage in sufficient due diligence before giving away their money, which in the final analysis did not always serve the purpose for which it was intended. This inspired him to create a website and write a book under the title of Giving Wisely: The Israel Guide to Non-Profit Organizations. Both the website, which he closed down after 11 years, and the book were based on his extensive study of volunteering, nonprofit organizations and philanthropy. The book was originally available on Amazon, and contained close to 30,000 full or partial profiles of Israeli nonprofit organizations and foundations.

In 1990, Jaffe founded the Israel Free Loan Association which provided interest-free loans to new immigrants and needy people. He would work out a repayment plan with them, based on their individual finances, and taught them to understand that they received loans because the people who had received loans before them had begun paying them back, and in that way more funds were freed up and made available to others in need. In this way, he inculcated a sense of responsibility in those who received a loan.

The bulk of Jaffe’s research was directed toward child welfare, social services for large families, ethnic stereotypes in the Israeli population and access to nonprofit organizations in Israel.

Much of the benefit derived from twinning cities in other countries with those of Israel can be attributed to Jaffe, who saw such arrangements as an extension of Project Renewal, introduced by the Begin government in which he also had a hand. Project Renewal aimed to spruce up dilapidated neighborhoods and in so doing gave residents an enhanced sense of self worth.

Prior to receiving the Bonei Zion award, Jaffe was the recipient of many other honors, among them the president of Israel’s Citation for Outstanding Volunteer Activity in 1996, the Sderot Conference award for his contribution to Israeli society and the Mayor of Jerusalem Award for Outstanding Non-profit Association Leadership.

He also received the Bernard Revel Memorial Award, presented annually to the most outstanding scholar and community leader among Yeshiva University alumni. In 2011 he was the recipient of the Speaker of the Knesset’s Prize for improving the quality of life in Israel; and in 2012 he was named a Distinguished Citizen of Jerusalem.

Jaffe and his late wife Rivka had four children: Uri, Yael, Ruth and Naomi. He is survived by them, his grandchildren, sister, brother, sisters-inlaw and extended family.

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