As the senior and founding partner of Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, he has helped make legal history with securities class-action suits, such as his successful effort to bring restitution to investors in the failed Worldcom, Inc.
As a political activist, he rose to be national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee and national vice chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
But his home and his heart have always been in the local Jewish community and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. And that is where the Center City attorney plans to be devoting most of his efforts starting in September.
Barrack, who, as he says, "grew up" in Federation's Young Leadership, has been nominated to the post of Chair of Federation's Board of Trustees -- the top volunteer position -- for a one-year term that will start in the fall of this year. If approved by the Board, he will succeed current chair Beryl D. Simonson who has served since September 2004. If elected, he may serve up to three one-year terms.
A native Philadelphian, Barrack is a graduate of the Akiba Hebrew Academy and Temple University as well as Temple Law School and is currently a member of the university's Board of Trustees. Together with his wife Lynne he has five grown children and 11 grandchildren.
He has been chairman of the Lawyers Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the general chairman of the federation's annual campaign. He was treasurer of Federation, as well as co-chairman of the Operation Exodus Campaign, and received the Rosaline and Meyer Feinstein Award given by the community for outstanding leadership.
Imperative To Lead
For Barrack, the imperative to take a leading role in Jewish communal service is not an option.
"I believe in Federation," the nominee states emphatically. "The idea of Federation is to have a central guiding office to coordinate our community. We have to strengthen it and bring it back."
In explaining why he would take on the task of Federation leadership, he said that when agencies are encountering problems in funding and providing services, it's incumbent upon members of the community such as himself to step forward.
"As Jews we have a choice. Either we let our community disintegrate and disappear or we strengthen Federation and rebuild it for future generations. We each have the choice. Lynne and I have made our choice. We are back."
The nomination was welcomed by Ira Schwartz, Federation's president and CEO:
"Beryl Simonson has done an outstanding job in his term as Board Chair. I couldn't think of a better individual and a leader than Len Barrack to be nominated to help us continue on the path laid out by our Strategic Philanthropy plan. One of the critical elements contained in our plan is leadership succession. We're well on our way to improving our ability to strategically identify and recruit community leaders who will lead us forward. Len brings a deep sense of commitment to the community."
That sentiment was echoed by Simonson.
"Our nominating committee has done a superb job in coming up with a recognized community leader like Leonard Barrack to continue to transform our federation," said Simonson.
"I served with Len on the UJA national leadership cabinet and worked with him again when he chaired our Philadelphia Federation campaign for two years. The energy that Len put into those activities, along with the other communal leadership positions that he has had in our Federation, was impressive. I know he will serve our community well as Chair of the Board of Trustees."
Joseph Smukler, Chair of Federation's nomination committee and a former Chair of the Board of Trustees himself, said that Barrack was "a unanimous choice" of the committee. "He has the proven dedication and leadership to help guide our Federation into a confident and successful tomorrow."
Barrack says he understands that taking on this position at this time is a tremendous challenge. In an era where "boutique" and personal foundations have been gaining and central philanthropies like federations have been losing ground, reversing this trend is essential to keeping the Jewish community vital.
"There is a changed dynamic in the Jewish world, as well as here in Philadelphia," he says. "We have to roll with these changes and direct our resources to where they are most needed. We know what happens to communities when there is no central focus. We need direction."
According to Barrack, the question is no longer where to direct the resources as studies such as those that were behind Federation's own 2003 strategic philanthropy initiative had already shown the way.
"People are capable of understanding that priorities do change. We know what to do. We just don't have the resources to do it," Barrack admitted.
"Our most important task is to attract young leaders who are interested in communal life and have a vision of where we are going."
People Are Coming Back
Is it possible to attract young Jews to Jewish philanthropies in an era where the competition from secular and artistic causes is so great?
Barrack says yes.
"We've been there and done that. Young Jews have done all the secular causes. I see people are now coming back and looking to Jewish communal life for inspiration. It's our job to help them realize that Federation is where their contributions will be meaningful."
As for what has inspired Barrack to stick with Jewish causes himself, he answers it with one word: "Akiba."
"All this is a natural consequence of my Akiba education," Barrack says, and he traces his own strong support of Jewish education as a communal priority from his own experiences. "It embodies a pluralistic tradition which blends Jewish and American values."
"My parents were immigrants to this country and spoke Yiddish," Barrack recalls.
But, he says, they embraced the Hebrew education provided by a day school because, after the establishment of the State of Israel, "Hebrew became the living language of our people. My parents cared about Israel and were always very interested in Jewish life. It was a natural transition for me to get involved when I grew up."
Barrack says he's ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work to help grow Greater Philadelphia's Jewish community. But he knows it won't be easy and that is, in a sense, the lure for him.
"I'm not interested in the trappings of leadership. I'm more interested in the challenge itself. I'm able to contribute and it's my job to see things through to success.
"And I'm sure we're going to do it."