Tobi Lessem was 25 when she first came to Hebrew Free Loan, just back from eight months on a kibbutz. While she was still in Israel, she met with a bodyworker in the middle of the desert and experienced a profound healing. A vision of her own future opened before her, and she signed up for massage school the day she got back to the U.S.
The path wasn’t easy. Tobi found herself studying massage, paying off student loans, dealing with health issues, and launching herself as a massage therapist. She was also doing whatever it took to get by — from housecleaning to catering to driving seniors on errands — but it was still a struggle to make ends meet.
“If it weren’t for the generosity of Hebrew Free Loan, I don’t know how I would have gotten over the hurdles I faced,” Tobi says. “Coming from generational poverty, I had nowhere else to turn when I needed help to advance my career and business.”
Six years after receiving her first interest-free Hebrew Free Loan, Tobi is a certified massage therapist who owns Bodywise Massage in San Rafael, a thriving business with 16 employees. She also provides jobs for single parents who are studying to be bodyworkers themselves. And Tobi still makes time for pro-bono work, offering services to the homeless and women escaping domestic violence.
“The old saying, It takes money to make money, is more than a cliché,” Tobi says. “My family supported my goals, but they weren’t able to help much financially. I had no access to low-cost credit. None of this would have been possible without Hebrew Free Loan, and I am forever grateful.”