Signs, banners and brochures — even cookies — carried the new name and logo at a ceremony officially bestowing the moniker on the former Akiba Hebrew Academy. The event was held Monday in Bryn Mawr at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's new Radnor Campus.
The campus, formerly the site of the American College, is located on Bryn Mawr Avenue. The Barrack Hebrew Academy, founded as Akiba in 1946, will be Federation's first tenant on the scenic 35-acre property; the school will continue to occupy its current site on Highland Avenue in Merion Station until the 2008-09 academic year, when it will move to its new location and occupy the more than 86,000-square-foot Gregg Conference Center.
The day school acquired its new name as part of a $5 million gift made by the Barrack Foundation. With tuition currently at $22,000 per year, the substantial financial assistance for scholarships will enable more students to pursue a Jewish secondary education, said Rabbi Philip D. Field, head of school.
The new name honors the brother of Akiba alumnus Leonard Barrack, the new chair of Federation's board of trustees. Barrack lost his older brother, Jack, and his father, Morris, in a plane crash in 1960. A painted portrait of a youthful Jack Barrack, smiling widely and wearing his army uniform, was visible on an overhead screen during the ceremony; he died at age 27.
At the naming event, Leonard Barrack explained that his parents came to the United States as poor immigrants; his father had no formal education and spoke no English at the time. With help from Jewish organizations, the elder Barracks were able to realize their dreams as American Jews, explained their son, and provide an education for their four children.
Leonard, the youngest, was the only one to attend Akiba, where he played on the basketball team; he was just 17 when he lost his brother, his "protector and rock," he said.
Appropriately, students presented the Barracks with a glass award engraved with the phrase l'dor v'dor ("generation to generation").
"No longer will Philadelphia have the dubious, national distinction of having the lowest percentage of its Jewish children in Jewish day school," proclaimed Leonard Barrack at the naming.
"Today, our community draws a line in the sand. No longer will we accept decreasing enrollment, increasing tuition and a lack of competitive facilities in our Jewish day schools," he continued. "From this day forward, let this ceremony represent a time of change, a reversal of decline, a new vision of the future for our community and our children."
Jack Barrack's daughter, Susan Tannenbaum, who was only 3 when her father died, said she cried when she first heard that a school would be named for him.
"It's very meaningful to honor my father that way," she said. "What I know of him, he was a great man."
Some current students said that they were sad at first to hear of the proposed name change, but most seemed okay with it, knowing that the additional funds would help fellow and future students, according to Ben Harrow, 17, of Wynnewood.
The senior said that he's excited about the changes occurring at his school, although he mentioned that he and his fellow seniors will now have to write the extended name of the "Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, formerly Akiba Hebrew Academy," on all their college applications. Diplomas for this year's graduating class will also bear the extended name.
Among his friends, though, Harrow said, he will still call the school Akiba.
Eighth-grader Michael Nahmani of Lower Merion, 14, also said that he isn't ready to give up the old name just yet.
Some students have asked if they could keep items now on display around the school that bear the Akiba logo. The nostalgic collectibles will also be offered to alumni.
Vivian Young, director of recruitment and admissions at Barrack Hebrew Academy, said that thanks to the couple's gift, "families who had not considered Akiba before now will."
"This is a most exciting time to be looking into Akiba," she said. "The caliber of education is staying the same."