Years before the concept of “tikun olam,” repairing the world, became for some a kind of watchword for applied Judaism, there was a proud Jew born and raised in Cleveland named Eliezer Jaffe. For him, repairing what was wrong and unjust in Israeli society was a driving force in his life. Last week, Eliezer departed from this world in Jerusalem at the age of 83.

I had the privilege of meeting Eliezer in the mid-1970s when he was on a sabbatical stay in Cleveland from his position as a professor of social work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and I was the editor of the Cleveland Jewish News.

In an interview at that time, he laid out to me his dream of establishing a free loan fund in Israel to help students, young couples, new immigrants, small businessmen – basically anyone who was in great need of funds but could not afford or was unable to secure loans through commercial means. His prolonged efforts to raise seed money for this project eventually led to the founding many years later of the Israel Free Loan Association, which today has provided more than 1 billion shekels in loans to many thousands of people.

That successful project was one of only many social initiatives that this soft-spoken yet highly determined social activist initiated in Israel. To list all of his accomplishments would fill a page, the awards he received for his achievements another several lines. Let it just be said that this unique, committed Israeli Jew from Cleveland achieved more in his lifetime for the disadvantaged, the “other Israel,” that we often don’t see (or don’t want to see), than just about anyone.

Indeed, he was truly someone of whom it could be said that he was Cleveland’s gift to Israel and to the Jewish world. He is greatly missed by everyone who was inspired by his devotion to his fellow man, including the writer of these lines.

Jerry Barach was editor of the Cleveland Jewish News from 1970 to 1980.

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