As an Orthodox Jew who grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Brooklyn, Samuel Adelsberg braced himself for the worst of reactions when he unveiled his new project: An online micro-giving site similar to kiva.org that lends small sums to Palestinian micro-entrepreneurs living in the West Bank who have been vetted by U.S. government-approved microfinance institutions.
“I understand the hesitancy,” says Adelsberg, who recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. “Once you get beyond the visceral reaction of giving to someone who you’ve always been told is your enemy, there’s a point where you say, ‘wow, maybe this can actually help.’”
LendforPeace was born out of the idea that strengthening the Palestinian economy is a necessary precursor to achieving that much-coveted peace in the Middle East. Since February 2009, when Adelsberg launched LendForPeace along with a fellow Jew and two Palestinians, the site has doled out more than 50 loans at an average size of $900 each. The premise is to promote peace through prosperity — one $25 loan at a time. The organization recently processed its first round of repayments and boasts a 100 percent repayment rate.
“As a Zionist and as an Orthodox Jew, I don’t think this is a zero sum game,” Adelsberg says. “If there’s ever going to be a solution to this conflict, it’ll be when we’re both in better economic positions.”
Adelsberg says his father sparked his passion for microfinance when he started a gemach (interest-free loan fund) in Geulah, a poverty-stricken haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem. “Early on, I learned how loans can be used for social good,” he says.
Dancing king: “I’ve been known to ‘break it down’ on the dance floor from time to time — mixing my Eastern European heritage, my passion for all things Middle Eastern and my Brooklyn and West Philadelphia upbringing,” he says.