They Get By With a Little Help

During a recent exchange program, Barrack Hebrew Academy students got the opportunity to see how similar they are to teenagers who attend school thousands of miles away from them, in the land of the tango. The two groups of teens –both wearing the unofficial "school uniform" of professional-sports jerseys or shirts with familiar brand names and, of course, jeans — quickly developed a solid comfort level and were soon chatting with their new friends over their brown-bag lunches.

From Oct. 8 to Oct. 18, Barrack students and their families hosted 12 ninth-graders from Colegio Tarbut, a Jewish kindergarten-through-secondary school based in Buenos Aires. During the 10-day visit, the three female and nine male Tarbut students stayed in the homes of Barrack ninth-graders and shadowed their counterparts throughout their regular class schedule.

Three of the Argentinian students were hosted by Barrack 10th-graders.

The program allowed the visitors to gain a glimpse into Jewish life in America and develop a sense of mutual appreciation, said Ray Leven, a Barrack teacher, of the 10-day visit.


Roxana Blager, head of the English program for the secondary school at Tarbut, said that her school had been considering new places to travel to as part of the annual exchange program designed for ninth-graders. For example, last year's ninth-grade class spent time at a Jewish day school in Boston.

In anticipation of this year's trip, Blager researched and wrote to several schools on the East Coast. After she found Barrack, spoke to teacher Leven and saw how similar the pluralistic philosophies were between the two institutions, she said she knew it was the right place for her students. Leven had been in contact with Blager since the summer, helping to arrange the details for the visit.

"Ray opened the doors of the school" for us, said Blager.

'An Amazing Time'
The trilingual (Spanish, English and Hebrew) Tarbut students arrived in America on Oct. 8 and visited Barrack for one class period to get acclimated.

The students then spent last Tuesday and Wednesday exploring Philadelphia, taking in historic sights like Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House. They also stopped in at the National Constitution Center and the Franklin Institute Science Museum, and tasted the treats at Reading Terminal Market, a particular favorite among the teens. They also said they loved Starbucks, which they don't have back home, and enjoyed peanut butter, another unusual treat.

Yet another difference? While the school year has just begun for Barrack students, the Tarbut students are a month-and-a-half away from their summer vacation; their school year runs from March to December.

An assembly was held last Thursday — the Argentinian students' first full day at Barrack — welcoming them to the school. Signs throughout the academy read "Bienvenidos Alumnos Argentinos" ("Welcome Argentine Students").

Three Barrack students who either lived in or have family in South America — Betsy Silverstein, Gabe Duec and Natalie Epelman — addressed the visitors in Spanish and then in English. Epelman said that she hoped the guests "have an amazing time here in the States."

Tarbut students then presented a video they made featuring the history of their country, including its Jewish history, and a cinematic tour of their school.

After the assembly, the Tarbut students were presented with T-shirts bearing the Barrack logo, which some of the teens immediately put on over their clothes.

The students received tours of the Merion Station school, and spent several days attending regular classes and activities with their Barrack hosts.

The Tarbut guests were set to leave Oct. 18, along with Blager and Norma Goldman, head of the Tarbut Jewish-studies program, and then travel to Washington, D.C., where they will spend several days seeing the sights, including a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Blager said the visit allowed her students and the Barrack kids to realize how alike they are, and that she hopes to host Barrack students in Buenos Aires soon, and "give them back all the nice things they gave us."



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