UJC designates $23 million to aid small Israeli businesses

As the old saying goes, in order to receive a loan, you first have to prove you don’t need one.

In the United States, it feels that way sometimes, particularly for the small businessperson or solo entrepreneur, who often must demonstrate reserves of 10 percent to 25 percent.

But however much it takes to convey credit-worthiness in the United States, Israelis have it much harder. “Basically, the banks in Israel do not serve the smaller businesses,” explained Abraham Sofaer.

And that’s just where Abe Sofaer comes in.

Sofaer, also a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is president of the American Friends of the Koret Israel Economic Development Funds (KIEDF), which for years has been providing Israeli small businessmen with the funds needed to show collateral for an Israeli bank loan.

In the past 10 years, the program has grown from a $250,000 startup to a $10 million enterprise. But KIEDF’s kitty more than tripled with one stroke of the pen in recent months, when the United Jewish Communities designated KIEDF manager of more than $23 million from its Israel Emergency Campaign for economic development in the war-torn north of Israel.

“Basically, we’re going to manage that money the same way we manage our own,” Sofaer said.

“We’re going to use it to secure loans and reduce interest rates for Israelis who have been severely damaged by the war and had their businesses set back.”

With the backing of San Francisco’s Koret Foundation, Israeli banks allow borrowers to show 20 percent. Most of the loans secured range from $50,000 to $200,000.

Working with funds earmarked for northern Israeli businesses will hardly be a stretch for KIEDF, which already runs niche programs aimed at Israeli Arab businesses and businesses operated by Bedouin women.

Sofaer estimates that KIEDF loans have created roughly 45,000 jobs.

“When you’re giving money away, you don’t want to waste it,” he said.

“We have a proven method of operation and we’re going to stick to it.

“There’s a reason [the UJC] gave us this money,” he continued. “We’re good at this.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.