Native philanthropists repay loans for HFLA debtors

Six years after Chaim Cowen bought his home on Bigelow Boulevard in Greenfield in 2014, he was unexpectedly forced to repair the roof – and reached out to the Hebrew Free Loan Association (HFLA) for a $ 5,000 interest-free loan to pay part of the work.

Earlier this month, a $ 15,000 donation to HFLA from a retired Pittsburgh business owner and his wife helped fund the last $ 850 of Cowens’ payments. When they heard the news, Cowen and his wife were stunned.

“Of course we’re grateful to Hebrew Free Loan that we were able to get such a loan – it was amazing to pay it off,” said Cowen.

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Cowen plans to use the newfound financial headroom to jump from working as a company electrician to funding his own independent business.

“It’s been a great blessing,” Cowen told the Chronicle. “It was definitely a mitzvah and, God willing, I hope I can keep paying it in the future and do it for someone else.”

Pittsburghers Barney and Susie Guttman are the couple behind the HFLA donation. After reading a story in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle last year about a Los Angeles-based developer who donated money to the HFLA to pay off the Pittsburghers’ loans, the Guttmans were inspired to express their philanthropic zeal and donate themselves.

This year, the Guttmans’ donation paid off nine HFLA loans and made a real difference in the lives of 14 Pittsburgh Jews, said Aviva Lubowsky, director of marketing and development for the HFLA.

“We are so grateful for the generosity of Barney and Susie,” said Lubowsky. “It was a great pleasure to call borrowers and say, ‘You no longer have to make loan payments.’ There’s that stunned silence on the other end. I mean, how often do you get a gift from a stranger, let alone one worth hundreds and in some cases more than a thousand dollars? “

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” she added. “It’s a win for the community members who are borrowers, a win for the HFLA, and I hope it is a win for the Guttmans. At a time when life has been so challenging and there is so much fighting, the Guttmans gesture is a ray of light and goodness. “

Barney Guttman, a Pittsburgh-raised and retired Jewish business owner who lives in Oakland but spends about half of his year in a winter home in Delray Beach, Florida, is humble about the donation.

“Your heart goes out to these people,” said Guttman. “I want to help everyone – maybe what I’ve done is the impetus for someone else.”

Guttman, father of three, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Ivy League Wharton School and began his financial career at Merrill Lynch in New York City.

In the 1980s, Guttman started his own company in Pittsburgh, where he managed client portfolios in investments – particularly stocks and insurance, he said. He retired three years ago.

“I’ve expanded every year,” Guttman told the Chronicle. “I started in the Oliver Building downtown with a pen, a Wall Street Journal and a yellow pad.”

Guttman, who is Jewish, grew up in Squirrel Hill and attended both Conservative and Reformation services; he became a bar mitzvah in Beth Shalom Ward and married Susie Guttman in Rodef Shalom Ward.

“I live by my Jewish roots,” he said, adding that all eight of his grandchildren attend Jewish day schools, including the Community Day School in Squirrel Hill.

“Philanthropy was part of me too – I’ve always been philanthropic,” said Guttman. “And I believe in Jewish organizations. It was a real mitzvah for these people to give.

“It really hits home,” he added, “when you see how the money is being used.”

It could have been different for Guttman, he admits. When he took career choice tests after graduation, the results did not suggest a life in finance.

“They told me to go to the clergy,” he laughed. “If you are in the investment business, you are in it. You listen to people, help them – that’s lifestyle work. ” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.

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