Since its founding in 1946, the oldest pluralistic Jewish day school in North America has been known as the Akiba Hebrew Academy. But it will soon go by a new name, the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy — a change that school and Jewish-community officials insist will help ensure its future as a top-notch institution.
The name change comes as a result of a $5 million gift from the Barrack Foundation — facilitated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia — to the school, funding that will largely go toward merit- and need-based scholarships.
"As an Akiba alumnus, I have always held my alma mater in very high regard," said Leonard Barrack, a prominent Center City attorney, and a 1960 graduate of Akiba, who has been nominated to succeed Beryl D. Simonson as chair of Federation's board of trustees.
"My seven years as a student at Akiba have taught me to uphold the sacred Jewish traditions and values and have influenced my life in so many positive respects," he continued.
"I wanted to make sure that more children in our community are able to have the same invaluable experiences as I did at Akiba. The future of our Jewish community depends, in part, on our ability to grow and positively influence the next generation.
"Lynne and I want to make sure that the school continues to remain vibrant and strong for many years to come, and continues to offer high-quality Jewish education to our community," he said, referring to his wife.
On Feb. 22, Akiba's board of directors approved the gift and name change. Planning is under way to have an official ceremony at the campus.
The school is being renamed in honor of Barrack's older brother, Jack, who was killed in a 1960 plane crash along with their father, Morris Barrack. Jack Barrack died at the age of 27. The married father of two, he attended Temple University, and had served in the U.S. Army before joining his father to help run the family's shoe factory in South Philadelphia. Morris and Jack Barrack had attended a business convention in Boston, and were killed on the flight back to Philadelphia.
Scholarships and Faculty
According to the conditions of the gift agreement, 90 percent of the funds will go toward establishing a scholarship program. The rest will go toward building faculty-enhancement programs. The agreement stipulates that the school set up a committee to develop criteria for both financial aid and merit scholarships.
The other 10 percent will go toward continuing to attract high-quality faculty members through salary enhancements, stipends and bonuses.
Rabbi Phillip D. Field, Akiba's head of school, admitted that many parents looking into the school experience "sticker shock" when they learn the current cost of annual tuition: $22,000.
"I'm not proud of our tuition," acknowledged Field, adding that the gift will help make the Jewish day-school experience more affordable, and thus a viable option for a larger number of families. "This gift is spectacular for the school; it puts it in a whole other stratosphere."
Field acknowledged that some of the school's alumni are less than thrilled with losing the name of Akiba, the first- and second-century rabbi considered one of the Talmud's greatest sages.
"There is some sadness about changing the name," admitted Field. "But the emotion of appreciation outweighs it in spades."
Field explained the gift constituted the largest in the school's history. The second largest came in the form of a $4.2 million donation by Dr. Robert and Lillian Brent, which endowed a chair in science, and contributed to the school's overall endowment and capital fund.
According to Federation, the Barrack Foundation gift supports the agency's long-term goal of strengthening Jewish day-school education.
"Federation is thrilled to be able to facilitate this very generous gift of $5 million to provide need-based and merit-based scholarships," said Ira M. Schwartz, federation's president and CEO. "We're excited to partner with the Barrack Foundation and the school to ensure the standard of excellence that the institution is well-known for, and to make sure it continues well into the future."
Simonson added, "Federation's ability to work with the Barrack Foundation to help structure the agreement and direct the gift to one of our community's finest institutions demonstrates our position as a leader in this community, and allows us to significantly impact one of our top priorities — supporting Jewish day-school education."
Mitchell R. Cohen, president of Akiba's board of directors, added that "clearly, this gift will increase our ability to provide tuition aid to families that are priced out of a day-school education. Akiba has been in the forefront of quality day-school education since 1946. As we mark our 60th anniversary, this very generous and historic gift assures that Akiba's traditions of excellence will continue to benefit students for generations to come."