Cantor Julius (“Julie”) Blackman passed away on April 22 at the age of 105½. Julie served as the executive director of Hebrew Free Loan from 1963 – 1990. He was a gifted cantor who served at synagogues in Southern California and then at Congregation Ner Tamid in San Francisco before he was tapped to lead Hebrew Free Loan. During his 27-year tenure as executive director, he dedicated himself to growing the agency, strengthening it, and positioning it well for the future.
When a centenarian dies, it can hardly be viewed as a tragedy. We are expected to celebrate the fullness of the person’s life and appreciate the impact he or she has had on the lives of so many. And Julie indeed lived fully, with great joy and enthusiasm. He was engaged with the world and the people he loved right up until his passing, which happened peacefully at home.
Still, Julie will be missed by so many … what he stood for, how he lived his life, and the example he set for all of us.
Born in 1913, Julie was raised in Chicago, lived with his wife, Phyllis, and their children in Los Angeles for several years, and eventually moved to San Francisco. Their daughter, Beth, has worked for Hebrew Free Loan since 1984, and currently serves as Loan Officer/Finance Associate. Their other children are Ellen Blackman of Culver City, CA, and Paul (and Susan) Blackman of Arlington, VA.
Among many other contributions, Julie should be recognized for these achievements:
- In the late ’40s, he served as founding president of the West Coast region of the Cantors Assembly.
- In 1964, he instituted a separate student loan program at Hebrew Free Loan, with a maximum loan amount of $500. Today, student loans make up 65% of the agency’s loan portfolio, and students can borrow $6,000 – $10,000 per year.
- In the early ’70s, he played a pivotal role in helping to found Jewish Vocational Service.
- In 1982, he founded and served as the first president of the Association of Hebrew Free Loans (now called the International Association of Jewish Free Loans), in an effort to launch new free loan agencies and collaborate with colleagues in other communities.
Julie was known for his rachmones (compassion) and his desire to do good by helping people. To this day, former loan recipients mention Julie with great fondness. They all have a similar expression of disbelief and gratitude as they recall their specific situation and how Julie came to their rescue. He was sincere in his concern for people, and he went above and beyond to improve their lives.
He was also quite a matchmaker. When a woman called him to see if he knew where she could donate unwanted furniture, he recalled a Russian émigré who had recently received a loan. Not only did he connect the two of them, but he called upon a third contact, a man who had received a Hebrew Free Loan to start a moving company. The mover agreed to pick up the furniture from the donor and bring it to the émigré’s apartment.
Another time, two students were waiting in the Hebrew Free Loan office to be interviewed by Julie. They started talking and realized they attended the same college and had similar interests. One thing led to another, and soon the two became a couple.
Julie loved his nuclear and extended family, Hebrew Free Loan, music, baseball, people, and life in general. No one had a stronger will to live and a greater appreciation for his blessings than Julie did. Although life slowed down for him after his beloved Phyllis passed away in 2007, he remained active and maintained his remarkable memory until the end. Four days before his passing, Julie spent 25 minutes working out at the gym. His children remained devoted to him and managed to keep him living in his own apartment, which was what he wanted.
The family asks that donations in Julie’s memory be made to Hebrew Free Loan or JFCS. The impact of Julie’s good deeds will be felt for generations. May his memory be a blessing.