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Rambam Trust ‘like family’, say Jews in debt

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Over the past few years, Pam Cohen’s* expenses and those of her children far exceeded what she was making in her little business, and she got further and further into debt. No matter what she did, it seemed to get her into further trouble, and she believed she had nowhere to turn.

Then she heard about the Rambam Charitable Trust, a communal loan society, which was able to help her find her way out of debt.

She’s not alone. With so many in the community in financial straits, the trust has become a lifeline, providing R215 million to members of the community since its inception in 1995.

“I’m lucky enough to have full-time work, but regardless, the cost of living is tremendous,” said single father Yonatan Rosenberg*, another of the trust’s borrowers.

“I managed to get myself into quite a lot of debt over time. My monthly expenses and debits coming off my account were just so incredible that I didn’t have the money to buy food,” he said.

The Rambam Trust assists about 170 borrowers annually. It’s committed to assisting any and all members of the South African Jewish community with a range in age, profession, and walks of life.

“The community’s needs have evolved,” Craig Sacks, the director of the Rambam Trust, told the SA Jewish Report. “Though the pandemic had immediate economic impacts, ongoing challenges persist. We’ve adapted our support to address shifting needs, focusing on long-term financial stability for our beneficiaries.

“We’ve noticed that since the pandemic, our community is facing tremendous financial challenges. Last year, we saw a need to focus more attention on interest-bearing debt such as credit cards, which have high interest rates.”

The trust assists the borrower in repaying the high-interest debt by rather paying the capital back to the trust over up to three years instead of the bank.

“This can be a lifeline for a person who may be drowning in debt with no realistic way of servicing the interest and capital repayments. Current challenges include various expenses such as medical, car repair, varsity and school fees, simchas, credit card debt, sometimes even just living expenses.”

Yoseph Frischman*, another borrower, said that when he was unable to sell his property and needed some financial assistance, he approached the trust in mid-2023 to get help. “It’s wonderful that they’re Jewish, so it’s like speaking to family. And they’re really patient, understanding, and caring. They were able to help me. It made a stressful situation a lot less stressful,” Frischman said.

Similarly, Tamar Goldman* said that even though she had a full-time job, when it was time for her to buy a car and manage her living expenses, she was under a lot of financial pressure. Goldman applied for a loan from the Rambam Trust as she didn’t want to accrue a lot of debt. After paying back the money from the initial loan, Goldman applied for a second loan. “My credit card bill was stressing me out because I’d gone on a trip to Israel, and then some money that I was expecting to come through couldn’t come through, and I was left with this big credit card debt. It wasn’t huge, but for me it was big. The Rambam Trust covered the cost of the debt, and now I don’t have to worry about interest accruing and just getting into more and more debt.”

Sacks said the trust didn’t charge interest on loans, which is prohibited by Jewish law, “so we’re always in a battle against inflation. To counteract inflation, we’re always raising additional funds to supplement the trust’s capital. We also rely on the community for word-of-mouth referrals to friends and family. Our purpose is to help as many members of our South African Jewish community as possible, and for that we need people to be talking about the Rambam Trust.”

“I didn’t feel like I was coming as a beggar,” said another borrower. “They made me feel like a mensch, like a human being. They treated me well. They didn’t give me any problems. It was never intrusive or difficult. The whole scenario was just very good.”

Said Rosenberg, another borrower, “They treated me with the most incredible amount of honour. They helped me pay off all the smaller loans or debts I had accumulated over years. I landed up paying a lot less every month than I had with all those small debts accumulated over a good two years or so. It’s made my life so much easier and more manageable.”

*Not her/his real name.


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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Chaim

    Apr 11, 2024 at 2:59 pm

    Pity they don’t grant loans unless you can get someone to sign security.

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