Repaying Student Debt for Educators at Jewish Organizations

When Bob Tandler served on the board of Hebrew Free Loan, he discovered that more than 65% of its loans help students afford the cost of college.

Bob Tandler and Valli Benesch

“My wife and I wanted Jewish institutions to be able to recruit and retain our best and brightest,” says Tandler, who co-owns a Bay Area real estate development, management, and investment firm with his wife Valli Benesch. After learning that for-profit companies repay student loans for employees as a strategy to enhance employee recruitment and retention, they thought it might help in the nonprofit world as well. “It occurred to me that the only way for young people to enter and stay in a career in education and the nonprofit sector would be if they had help from their employer in repaying their debt.”

As a result, in partnership with the Federation, Bob and Valli launched the Student Debt Relief Pilot. In brief, during this three-year Pilot, educators working at one of 18 Bay Area Jewish institutions will receive a monthly payment toward their student loans. The Pilot is administered by the Federation and Gradifi, a subsidiary of First Republic Bank.

“We have two adult daughters who had many friends, who, upon graduating from college, wanted a mission-filled life,” says Valli. “As they embarked upon nonprofit or teaching careers, our daughters shared their difficulties in affording life in the Bay Area. That touched us. We wanted to find a way to help those who are giving back like that.

We love the Jewish community here, and appreciate and understand that many people who work in our Jewish institutions sacrifice standards of living because the pay doesn’t support the high cost of living,” she continues. “Many employees are still paying off significant undergraduate and/or graduate degree loans. So we thought it made sense to ease this burden.”

Bob says that to his knowledge this is the first such multi-institution student debt repayment program for Jewish organizations in the United States.

“Our hope is that in three years that the Pilot will be successful and articulate a metric that shows employees stay longer at these institutions,” says Bob. “Then we can raise more funds to spread the debt relief beyond even Jewish institutions, to other nonprofit and educational institutions in the Bay Area.”

Bob and Valli’s motivation for launching a program to help professionals at Jewish nonprofits stems from their personal experiences. Bob’s father’s family fled Vienna in 1940 and settled in a suburb of St. Louis where Bob was raised. Valli grew up in San Francisco, where her father was active with the Federation since the 1950s.

After they married, Valli was a Wexner Fellow and that experience was foundational for both her and for Bob, who had never experienced any formal Jewish education. “Wexner brought me to Judaism and the Jewish community,” says Bob. “It was Wexner that motivated us to focus on teachers going into debt to serve our community and educate our students. We realized the value of Jewish education and wanted to give back.”

Bob and Valli have a long history serving the Bay Area philanthropic community. Currently, Bob is on the board of the Federation (Valli is a past board member), Jewish Family and Children Services, ACT Conservatory, UC Berkeley Hillel and the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation Heroes & Hearts Committee. Valli is on the board of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and is a former chapter chair of the Northern California chapter of the Young Presidents Organization.

“This Student Debt Relief Pilot is a small step to rally support in our Jewish community,” says Valli. “The Federation is the perfect partner for this, and we look forward to working together to relieve financial hardship on employees and in the process, strengthening our community.”

Categories: Community


January 02, 2018


Jackie Krentzman