It may not be as drastic a difference as "New Coke" versus "Classic Coke," but many in the local Jewish community are already referring to today's Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia as the "new Federation." Both the perception and the reality point to a new direction for the 106-year-old organization, with community leaders like Lynne and Leonard Barrack helping to set a fresh course.
"It's clear to me that Federation under its new leadership is not the same organization it was 10 years ago," said Leonard Barrack. "It's trying to accomplish its mission by being lean, business-oriented, and goal and mission-driven."
Echoes his wife, a trustee and member of the Women's Philanthropy Board: "We are encouraged and excited about the new path Federation is taking, with more accountability and more communication."
While the two have been involved in Jewish communal affairs for most of their adult lives, their relationship with Federation has been cyclical. Their mutual desire to make a difference in Jewish life under the organization's auspices sprang from international missions they participated in beginning in the late 1970s. But Leonard Barrack traces his personal motivation back to adolescence through his seven years at Akiba Hebrew Academy, to which the Barrack Foundation recently made a $5 million gift in honor of his brother.
"Although my family was paying full tuition at Akiba, I knew there were some subsidies being paid by the Jewish community through Federation," he recalled. "Later in life as I started to practice law, I realized it was time to pay back."
For Lynne Barrack, the most profound turning point came during the couple's trip to Poland in 1980. "I knew we had to help make sure there was continuity, that we were going to survive as a people, because we saw what had happened in Poland and in Auschwitz in particular," she said.
The Barracks stepped up their involvement, with Lynne Barrack serving on various Women's Philanthropy committees and Leonard Barrack becoming Federation treasurer and chair of the annual campaign. As they raised their five children, they extended their reach to include activities of the United Jewish Appeal, the forerunner of United Jewish Communities, and its Young Leadership Cabinet.
"The core of our life became Federation, and we made wonderful friendships with people in the region and across the country," Lynne Barrack remembered. "It was an extremely meaningful part of our lives — not just as a couple but as a family, because our children were involved in those experiences with us."
Over time, though, as they became immersed in work, politics and many other causes, their intimate connections with Federation began to fade.
"I think we reached a stage in our lives where we had some serious decisions to make," said Lynne Barrack. "We certainly tried to feel a sense of giving back without Federation being the primary vehicle for our philanthropy and involvement, but we eventually came to realize that we need Federation to survive for the sake of the community. Otherwise, we cannot hand our legacies to the next generation."
Leonard Barrack says he understands the appeal of organizations that address specific segments of the community but emphasizes the dangers of complete decentralization.
"Without Federation in the community, there would be a number of disparate Jewish organizations all doing their own thing," he pointed out. "We need a central address to coordinate the approach and focus of our Jewish communal organizations, and that's why Federation is so important."
As the "new Federation" evolves, the form it's taking precisely fulfills that function — as a convener of people and resources. Greater focus on community priorities, transparency in funding and higher donor accountability are key strategies being addressed by the Federation. As its mission statement articulates — identifying the highest community priorities and mobilizing human and financial resources to impact them — the "new Federation" is poised to face the future with strength and a renewed sense of energy as evidenced by the new levels of leadership.
"If we believe in honoring our past and ensuring our future, then we have to be involved in all aspects of Federation — taking care of the elderly, taking care of the young, ensuring that there's a strong Israel," added Lynne Barrack.
In the coming months, Leonard Barrack plans to embody that commitment and help forge a new paradigm for Federation.
"I think we have to realize what's at stake here, because there are tremendous risks in not being involved," he warned. "We have to have an active and successful Federation in order for our community to survive. Today we have a different kind of Federation than we have had in the past, and it's time for each member in the community to take a long hard look at it."