2 S.F. organizations join forces to provide financial help

Because serious illness frequently creates financial strains for patients and families, two Bay Area Jewish organizations have created a joint venture to alleviate some of those strains.

The Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, an 11-year-old organization providing spiritual care to individuals and families, and the Hebrew Free Loan Association, a 105-year-old organization offering financial assistance, have come together to help ease the burden of individuals and families coping with illness.

HFLA will offer 24 to 36 short-term, interest-free loans of up to $1,500 over the next year, according to Irwin Wiener, the association's executive director. He hopes to raise more funds for the program through foundations. Borrowers will have up to two years to pay back the loans.

Titled the Home Assistance program, the funds will help with some of the expenses of in-home or post-hospitalization care and rehabilitation, particularly for those with minimal resources or those whose finances have become severely taxed as a result of illness in the family.

"There's a tremendous need," said Rabbi Eric Weiss, executive director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. "Our clients are in many ways lower income, many are unaffiliated, and they're really caught in a financial burden that adds to the stress of their particular situation. This alleviates their burden so that the patient can concentrate on getting better and the family can concentrate on helping their loved one."

The fund will aid not only terminally ill individuals along with their families, but also those who need short-term care after a stroke or an accident.

"I know, for example, my father-in-law, who is turning 90, fell in his apartment and for two days nobody knew," said Wiener. "Finally, it was discovered and he went to a rehab center and then needed ongoing care, which [often] becomes a burden. This kind of program helps people on a short-term basis."

However, the loans are not just for elder care.

Frequently, a young person who has a sporting accident lacks the financial resources to cover the expenses of physical therapy or other rehabilitation, and insurance does not always defray the costs, Weiss pointed out.

The Home Assistance program grew out of conversations between Wiener and Weiss, who both head S.F.-based organizations.

"Also, because we both [put strong emphasis] on how we live Jewish values in our respective institutions, such as gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness," said Weiss, whose center also places an emphasis on bikkur cholim, attending to the ill, while HFLA focuses on lending with dignity. "Our tradition teaches us that our values have to take on concrete action in the healing of the world."

Added Wiener: "And it begins with the healing of the individual. You can't heal the world if the people in it are sick."

Even in the case of incurable illness, said Weiss, "We can do something in a concrete way. Even the end of life is a healing experience for the ill and for their loved ones."

Wiener said one goal behind the effort is "maintaining dignity through all parts of life."

Under the joint program, the healing center will assess the needs and loans will be disbursed through HFLA. Thus far, the program has received support from the Arthur S. Becker Special Needs Loan Fund for the Elderly, housed at HFLA.

For information on the Home Assistance program, call the healing center at (415) 750-4197.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].