When Selma Fiel started with Jewish Free Loan in 1996, she had just retired for the first time. After enjoying a long career in the health-care industry working in administration at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, she and her husband moved to Arizona. They didn’t know anyone in the Valley except their children, so Fiel thought seeking part-time employment at a Jewish organization might help her meet people her age with similar interests. “I saw an ad in the paper for an administrator/bookkeeper and they hired me,” Fiel says. “The next week I was working.”
And so began Fiel’s second career. Eventually, she became the organization’s executive director, retiring in 2008. “It was a dream job,” she says.
Fiel became executive director after the late Harry Adler, former JFL president and chairman of the board, took her to lunch and offered her the position. “He said, ‘I want to give you a raise and I want you to be executive director.’ I said, ‘I don’t want the raise, and I don’t want the title. Everything is fine now just the way it is.’ ” The next thing I know, the stationery was being reprinted.”
Fiel will be honored by Jewish Free Loan with the President’s Award at the organization’s annual meeting May 6 (see details box). The award honors an individual (or individuals), organization or institution that encourages Jewish continuity and reflects the values and principles of the Jewish Free Loan.
Looking back, Fiel says that one of her greatest accomplishments while at JFL was introducing the use of technology. “When I came in, we had a word processor and an adding machine. Everything was done by hand.”
Another key accomplishment during her tenure, Fiel says, was collaborating with other Jewish agencies, including Jewish Family & Children’s Service, and the Council for Jews With Special Needs.
“We followed Selma’s lead and continue to look for ways to partner with the community to ensure that they know we’re available as a resource,” according to Ellen Sacks, JFL associate executive director.
Jewish Free Loan currently has close to 40 named funds in a wide variety of categories, including loans for adoption and in vitro fertilization, small business loans, educational assistance loans, travel to Israel loans, Jewish burial loans and many others. So far this fiscal year, which ends on May 31, the board will have approved more than $300,000 in loans, Sacks says.
Fiel’s initial wish to meet people by working at a Jewish organization was more than fulfilled. “Every single person I’ve worked with at JFL can be counted as a friend, and you can’t say that about many places,” she says.
What: Annual meeting and 65th anniversary celebration
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 6
Where: Chaparral Suites, 5001 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Contact: 602-230-7983 or jewishfreeloan.org