Former Clevelander Eliezer David Jaffe was synonymous with the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. And when he made aliyah in 1960, he changed the world for thousands of struggling people in Israel.
Jaffe, the founder and president of The Israel Free Loan Association and a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was considered the father of Israeli social work. Jaffe died May 25 in Jerusalem at age 83.
Jaffe started the IFLA in the 1980s to assist Russian and Ethiopian Jews who were moving in large numbers to Israel. The idea for a free loan fund was born in 1989 after a visit to an immigrant absorption center in Jerusalem.
“I brought my children along,” he said at the time. “Busloads of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, straight off the airplane, had just arrived at the center and I explained that they were witnessing history in the making – the in-gathering of the exiles. After we got home I thought to myself – I have to get involved.”
The IFLA has since loaned more than $240 million and made more than 54,000 loans.
Jack Jaffe, of Beachwood, said his brother was a beacon of hope to many people who otherwise would not be able to receive help in dire situations, and he was consistently transparent in both his personal endeavors as well as his work.
“Charity was part of (his) life,” Jaffe said. “He devoted his whole life to proper choices for philanthropy and creating nongovernmental organizations that could revise positions toward groups such as people with disabilities, the unemployed and the economically affected due to constant war and displacement. He devoted his life to those people.”
Nine days prior to his death, Jaffe received the Bonei Zion Prize from Nefesh B’Nefesh to commemorate English-speaking immigrants who have made significant contributions to Israel.
Jaffe created Israel’s first academic school of social work, the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, co-founded the university’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy, and was one of four recipients of the Knesset Speaker’s Prize for Quality of Life in Israel. He was the first Centraid-L. Jacques Menard Professor for the Study of Nonprofit Organizations, Volunteering and Philanthropy at Hebrew University and was was a professor emeritus at Hebrew University.
Jaffe published several books, including “Giving Wisely: The Israel Guide to Non-Profit Organizations” and “Letters to Yitz,” an edited collection of letters between brothers before World War I.
He arrived in Israel with degrees in sociology, psychology and criminology, as well as a doctorate in social work, from Yeshiva University in New York, The Ohio State University in Columbus and Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
“My brother was a breaker of new ground” Jaffe said. “He was the first ever Ph.D of what would become the Mandel College of Social Work (at Case Western Reserve University).”
Jaffe said even though his brother visited the Cleveland area only a few times a year in his later years, the entire community, especially those at Green Road Synagogue in Beachwood, held him and his accomplishments in the highest of regards.
“Whenever he arrived at the synagogue, everyone would stand up,” Jaffe said. “They respected him and our family.”
Jaffe hopes that people will remember his brother as a trailblazer and a hero.
“Beloved doesn’t even begin to describe his connection with his family and friends,” Jaffe said. “I loved (Eliezer) dearly and I am proud to be his brother, as did everyone else whom he has touched in his life.”
Irving I. Stone Editorial Intern Roman Macharoni and JTA contributed to this story.