Beginning with their establishment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, free loan societies across the United States have played a vital role in the lives of American Jews. These agencies offer interest-free financial support to individuals, assisting them in striving to improve their quality of life and to navigate challenging circumstances. Individuals apply for loans to start businesses, pursue education, expand families, and pursue other goals.
Remarkably, the repayment rate for loans offered by these free loan societies exceeds 99%. As the loans are repaid, the capital is lent out again and again, helping more people and multiplying the impact over time.
Given these organizations’ extraordinary impact and the historic nature of individuals and communities assisted, records documenting more than a century of service and mutual aid support across generations are of tremendous historic value. As such, AJHS is thrilled to announce the acquisition of the archives of the Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York (HFLS).
HFLS was founded in 1892 by 10 leaders of the Jewish immigrant community on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, who combined resources to create an interest-free loan fund. Since its formation over 130 years ago, HFLS has provided over $380 million to more than 900,000 borrowers across the five boroughs, Westchester, and Long Island. has stood as a resource of the Jewish community accessible to all New Yorkers in the five boroughs, Westchester, or Long Island, regardless of heritage or religion.
The HFLS records include promissory notes, loan records, and donation books, which can yield fascinating insights for genealogists, students, demographers, social scientists, filmmakers, authors, journalists, and members of the public. Please watch this space to learn more about the HFLS collection, right alongside the AJHS archivist who will be processing these records!
AJHS is proud to steward the records of this unique institution and to care for and make accessible the Hebrew Free Loan Society’s incredible history—both the origins and impact of the organization and the stories of the individuals who received support in the hopes of improving their lives. Through archival processing and preservation, we are very excited to sustain these stories found in these records and to help them reach new audiences.