Ariel Toran was born in Jerusalem but grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, where he saw poverty and injustice cause a great deal of human suffering around him. Those experiences inspired him to become a public defender, which has been his career since he graduated from UC College of the Law, San Francisco (formerly known as Hastings), six years ago.

Ariel currently works for the Public Defender Office of Santa Clara County, and he finds it as rewarding now as when he was a law student starting his first summer internship. He’s grateful for the support he received from Hebrew Free Loan throughout law school, which helped make it possible for him to pursue a public interest career.

“Defending the defenseless is my life’s passion. When I can help a deserving person get out of jail and reunite with their family, I feel I’m giving back to the world. The interest-free student loans from Hebrew Free Loan were central to my being able to do this work.”

Money was tight for Ariel and his wife Erica Morales for a long time, especially since their daughter Noa (now nine years old) was born right before he started law school. They moved back to the Bay Area from LA, where Ariel had been teaching in an after-school program and Erica had been a stylist for commercials. Once their baby was old enough for childcare, Erica found work as a part-time Spanish teacher to support Ariel in pursuing his dream.

Things have finally eased up for them, and Erica now works as chief financial officer of a local nonprofit. They bought a fixer-upper in Oakland the week before the pandemic closed things down, and are grateful to have weathered the shutdown in a home where their family could be comfortable. Ariel continued going into court throughout the pandemic (public defenders were considered essential workers), but he and Erica still found time for a lot of DIY home improvement projects.

Now that they’ve paid back Hebrew Free Loan for Ariel’s student loans, Ariel and Erica are considering applying for an interest-free General Needs loan to help them with some necessary home repairs. Ariel has more appreciation than ever for the opportunity to borrow needed funds interest-free, after experiencing first-hand how oppressive the accumulating interest has been on his other student loans.

Ariel still remembers how helpful it was when his first loan officer at Hebrew Free Loan walked him through the process of creating a budget for his school expenses. Nobody had ever taught him those kinds of financial literacy skills before, and they’ve continued to make a difference in his life. Later, when Ariel fell victim to identify theft, he remembers the sense of dignity he felt when someone from Hebrew Free Loan reached out to him to ask if everything was okay, rather than gouging him with late fees.

“Hebrew Free Loan took a leap of faith with me when I had very little experience in the working world. It reminds me to always be on the lookout for the chance to do mitzvahs for others, just like the Jewish community has done for me.”

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