JELF Helps Students Continue Education Through Crisis
By David Cohen
Joshua Elbaz grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, one of three boys in a divorced household. His parents were always loving and very involved in the lives of their three sons. Joshua earned good grades in school
and was a member of his synagogue’s youth group. However, he could have never predicted the tragedy and heartache he and his family would eventually face. Not only did the family suffer the tragic loss of both of his brothers (non-COVID related) a few years apart, but also while still grieving his second brother’s death in July 2020, Joshua and his father contracted COVID, and his father subsequently died from it.
Even before COVID, Joshua had been inspired by his family’s story and had made the decision to become a lawyer. It was important to him that others got the second chance his brothers never received. To achieve his career aspirations, he knew he needed to pursue a law degree; his challenge was to find the money needed to be a full-time student. To accomplish this, Joshua took out federal Stafford loans, worked several jobs, and turned to Jewish Education Loan Fund (JELF) for those final dollars needed to get by.
JELF, a nonprofit organization providing interest-free loans since 1961, gives Jewish students the chance to achieve their career goals by helping them fund their higher education. Sadly, with the cost of college on the rise, many families are unable to afford the financial burden of tuition, fees, books, rent, food, utilities, and so much more. Today, even middle-class families find themselves facing situations that prevent them from putting aside extra savings for their children’s education. In recent years, as many as 94% of all students relied on some financial support (scholarships, grants, and/or loans). According to the Department of Education, 70% of college students graduate with student debt.
This is where JELF makes
a huge difference. The average annual JELF loan is between $3,000 and $6,000; students save $3,000 on average per loan in interest. Loan repayments begin six months after a student graduates, at which point JELF offers an eight-year, graduated repayment plan. This means that borrowers start repaying their loans gradually over time, as recipients progress in their careers. Student repayments are then used to help the next student in need.
Because of COVID, Joshua’s family suffered more than many others did. When the pandemic hit, Joshua had just started law school. He was living in his father’s house, where his grandmother also lived. After suffering a fall earlier this year, she was taken to the hospital and then placed in a rehab facility. Unfortunately, she contracted COVID at the rehab facility and unknowingly passed it to Joshua and his father after she had returned home. The virus took a huge toll on the family. Fortunately Joshua’s grandmother recovered, but sadly, Joshua’s father Robert, age 65, died at home. When the paramedics came to the house for his father, they immediately realized that Joshua was also extremely ill. They transported him to the hospital’s COVID unit, where he spent two weeks on oxygen. After recovering and being released from the hospital, Joshua had to face the difficult realization that he had just lost his father and then had to pick up his life in to resume his first year of law school.
Even during this grief-stricken time, Joshua’s goal to persevere with his legal education has never wavered. “I’ve lost more family members at the age of 29 than many people have lost at the age of 70,” explains Joshua sadly. “I’ve had friends tell me that if this [had] happened to them, they would have dropped out and quit. But if I don’t move forward, I would just stop. And nobody benefits from that. All the hard work that my father and brothers watched me put in would be for nothing. So I continue on in their memory.”
As Joshua begins the path to fulfilling his dreams, JELF is proud to lend him the financial support he needs. In 2020, JELF loaned more than $1.5 million in interest-free loans to nearly 400 students. Thanks to donors throughout the Jewish community and our consistent 99% student loan repayment rate, JELF was able to increase the number of students served by 33%.
As JELF’s board president, Jane Aronoff, recently said, “What I love about JELF is that your dollars never stop. They are used for one student, and then when paid back, the money is used for the next. Every dollar lives on and on.” Since the organization first started providing interest-free loans in 1961, JELF has loaned more than $14.5 million to more than 2,000 Jewish students.
To receive a JELF loan, a student must meet the following qualifications: Identify as Jewish. Be a resident of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia (excluding metro DC. Be a legal resident of the U.S.
Attend a U.S.-accredited school full-time.
Plan to (or have) filled out the FAFSA and accept student aid
Remain in good academic standing
Provide. a credit-worthy cosigner residing in the United States.
JELF’s mission is to help as many students as possible live with as little student debt as they can. “I want to thank JELF for all the support over the years both financially and emotionally,” said Joshua over a recent Zoom call. “Without this support, I would not be on the path to becoming a lawyer.”
JELF’s application is open from March 1 toApril 30 and then again September 1-30 each year. Students and parents can get more information and sign up for reminder emails about the application period at JELF. org. For more information about JELF, please email JELF’s marketing director at DCohen@ JELF.org.