An Israeli small business owner who received an interest-free loan from SparkIL. The organization has stepped in to help entrepreneurs struggling since the Oct. 7 attacks./COURTESY SPARKIL

Rebuilding the Jewish homeland, one loan at a time

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Rebuilding the Jewish homeland, one loan at a time

An Israeli small business owner who received an interest-free loan from SparkIL. The organization has stepped in to help entrepreneurs struggling since the Oct. 7 attacks./COURTESY SPARKIL

Nir Fridrich is an electrician in Ashkelon who survived the Nova music festival on Oct. 7 and has since faced a lack of work and mounting debt. Yuval Erlich is a winemaker in the north with declining sales. Mor Beeri owns a bridal store in Haifa and is struggling to pay her staff and cover operational costs.

Thanks to SparkIL, Fridrich, Er­­lich, Beeri and hundreds of other Israelis are now getting help keeping their small businesses afloat through the war. They’re all featured on SparkIL’s online platform, which connects global lenders with impactful business opportunities in Israel.

For as little as $25, lenders can invest in a small business of their choice as an interest-free loan through SparkIL, a joint initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel and The Ogen Group. Business owners pay back the loans monthly, for up to five years, and provide lenders with regular updates on how their investments are making a difference.

When lenders receive loan payments in their SparkIL accounts, they can choose to withdraw the money or reinvest the funds in another Israeli business on the platform.

“The beauty of SparkIL is that everyone can be part of rebuilding Israel,” says the organization’s CEO, Na’ama Ore. “You don’t have to be a big donor or have a lot of money. You can decide who you want to help, on which initiative, and 100% of your investment goes straight into the business.”

Since its founding in June 2022, SparkIL has been working to support business owners that come from – or employ – marginalized social groups within Israel.

As the devastating economic impacts of war became clear after Oct. 7, the organization broadened its scope. In December, SparkIL launched its Emergency Loan Fund to offer micro loans of up to 100,000 shekels (NIS) – approximately $28,000 – to businesses affected by the war.

The demand was overwhelming, says Ore. Her small staff, the equivalent of two-and-a-half full-time employees, received 7,000 inquiries. Of those, 650 businesses completed the extensive loan application.

Ore knew she needed more help to rigorously vet the businesses and get their profiles online. Thanks to a $250,000 grant from CJP’s Israel Emergency Fund, Ore was able to hire more staff (SparkIL now employs 10 people), invest in marketing to new lenders, and create educational curricula to bring SparkIL to Jewish day schools, synagogues, and teen organizations worldwide.

With the operational boost from CJP along with money from Jewish Federations of North America and others, SparkIL has already facilitated 16 million NIS worth of loans to 250 small businesses throughout Israel.

Ore says she and other Israelis have felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for their organizations – and a strong Jewish state – from CJP and other Jewish communities across the United States.

“I haven’t seen such unity and coming together between American Jews and Israelis for a very long time, maybe since Israel was born,” she says. “It’s very emotional just to understand that people care.”

Ore is an Israeli social entrepreneur who spent several years living in Boston, where she founded the New England chapter of the Israeli American Council (IAC) in 2014.

“I always knew that the Greater Boston Jewish community was made up of smart, generous people,” says Ore. “They understand now what we need to rebuild this country and to address the troubling economic crisis we’re in. In Israel, 97% of our businesses are small businesses. Partners like CJP helped us build the infrastructure to deploy loans, and make sure we’re giving out money to the right people for the right causes.”

During her time in Boston, Ore befriended longtime CJP donor and volunteer Rachel Chafetz, who served as founding co-chair of IAC New England and now sits on CJP’s Israel Emergency Fund Task Force. Chafetz brought SparkIL to her fellow Israel Emergency Fund Task Force members for funding consideration.

Chafetz, a self-described “proud Israeli American,” is also working with leaders at Gann Academy, The Rashi School, Congregation Kehillath Israel, and other Jewish organizations in Greater Boston to connect students to SparkIL. She hopes these efforts will help showcase the stories of Israelis to help teach the next generation about mutual responsibility and social justice.

“This money is going to give Israeli business owners a little space – and a little air – so they don’t sink. It’s saving their businesses. It’s huge,” said Chafetz.

One of those businesses is Ya’akov, a wine bar and shop in Tel Aviv that’s co-owned by three friends – Sahar Wysotsky, Yonatan Vaknin, and Tal Malihi – all of whom were called to serve in the Israel Defense Forces after Oct. 7. A  SparkIL staff member traveled around Israel to ensure that the three could sign the documents for their $26,957 interest-free loan.

The café is “a really new business,” says Wysotsky, who left his honeymoon in South Africa to head to war. “The [loan] process was very quick, with very professional people of the highest level. The very fact that they came to the war front here in the south [so I could sign the loan papers] is really not taken for granted.”

CJP president and CEO Marc Baker visited Ya’akov during his recent trip to Israel.

“I was so happy to sit in a café in Tel Aviv, bustling with life and feel that CJP had a small part in ensuring that this small business can remain open and thrive in these very challenging times,” Baker says. “It was remarkable to see the resiliency of everyday Tel Avivians enjoying a small taste of normalcy and a delicious cup of coffee.”  Θ

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