By Rebecca Shaid and Devora Solomon
There is no doubt that everyone is being affected by the loss and extreme change occurring in our country right now. However, what matters is how people and institutions choose to act in the face of sudden hardship.
As students and graduating seniors, it’s evident that Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr is at the forefront of leading its community with a positive outlook of sustained opportunity and improvement. The front that an institution shows in grave times paves the way for others to follow, so it comes as no surprise that Barrack and its community have shown heartwarming unity in these terrifying months.
It is not simply returning to online classes with new technology and curriculum so quickly which makes Barrack so resilient and hard-working. Rather, it is everything beyond that. In addition to online school, Barrack teachers and administrators have worked tirelessly, determined to provide constant comfort and additional support for their students.
Rav Will, director of Jewish life, has recruited students to lead prayers and read Torah in optional Shacharit services every morning, and has conducted Kabbalat Shabbat community services each Friday since the beginning of the school’s closure.
Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, two days with much time and devotion dedicated to every year at Barrack, were fully honored and celebrated virtually. These opportunities aid students in strengthening their connection with the Jewish community and taking charge in these difficult, isolating times.
Along with tending to spiritual needs, the athletic department has hosted training sessions, encouraging students to stay active and get outside despite urges to stay indoors all day. Sophia Shapiro, ‘20, has said that it’s “nice to see familiar faces pushing you to your limits, rather than just a random person on YouTube.” Many student-athletes are sad to miss their long-awaited spring season, but are comforted with consistent training videos and senior athlete shout-outs on the Barrack Athletic Department’s Instagram, knowing their mentors are still there with constant support.
In addition to facilitating a new routine in students’ lives, the school is recognizing and tending to the emotional needs of students and family members.
Amy Grolnick and Mari Kalman, guidance counselors to the high school and middle school, respectively, have created a helpline email @BarrackCares for students to use if they need to talk to a professional about hardships in their daily lives. They also send out weekly emails suggesting ways to keep busy, promoting methods to maintain a healthy mindset and providing techniques to practice gratitude for the opportunities and support systems that students have in their lives.
Student advisers have hosted weekly meetings to check-in and allow for discussion of the challenges they have faced throughout the online learning process. Barrack has been attentive to students’ needs and diligent in providing programming with the goal of fulfilling spiritual, physical and emotional needs.
The senior class has faced particular challenges in the loss of the rituals of their graduating year.
Rebecca Trajtenberg, the college counselor and senior class adviser, has worked nonstop to keep the seniors busy for their last three months of high school, as well as providing meaningful and educational experiences. Most senior projects were canceled when volunteering in-person became impossible, but Trajtenberg and Will met with each senior to formulate a plan to find new ways to give back to the community.
Several students are working with the Barrack admissions office, talking to incoming students who never had a chance to visit before school closed. Many others are providing online tutoring to underclassmen and students at Perelman Jewish Day School who are struggling with the educational adjustment.
Matan Dolev ‘20, a tutor for Perelman students, noted that “although this situation isn’t ideal, it’s been great to tutor kids from Perelman, give back to our community and help the next generation smile in these scary times.” Orli Friedman ‘20 and Sabrina Chevlin ‘20, have been contacting members of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to raise awareness for the organization and its efforts during quarantine along with planning for a virtual fundraiser as a replacement for the ACLU annual spring gala.
While many seniors are busy with their projects, Trajtenberg has brought everyone together twice weekly for featured speakers on Israel activism and students’ introduction to college life. She has stopped at nothing to provide seniors with the end to high school with community engagement opportunities and fun surprise gifts such as senior lawn signs.
Despite the many obstacles the Barrack community and seniors have encountered, Trajtenberg and the rest of the administration have worked tirelessly to replace the lost senior year milestones with the remembrances of the love and friendship students have experienced in high school.
The Barrack community is unique because it consists not only of students and faculty, but of each and every family member, and every alum, supporting one another in good times and bad. When another graduating class rolls through every year, an overwhelming amount of love and support is shown from the parents of every class, and now, in times less happy and exciting, the continual support shines through social media and programming for students.
Barrack’s alumni are even coming together now to improve and help guide juniors and seniors through the college process. Trajtenberg, along with alum Shira Perloff ‘19, organized dozens of college meetings with different alumni to constitute the college visits most would be taking right now. Perloff remarked “the familiar, comfortable feeling when (she) joins a call with students reminds (her) how special the Barrack community is,” evident through her devotion to giving back. Alumni also spoke to seniors about beginning college with their most helpful tips and advice.
Through this devastation, Barrack has shown its hard-working mentality, dedication to its students, resilience through improvement and devotion to support. There is little good about our world right now, but if you look for the silver linings, you’ll find that a community has shined through this calamity.
Rebecca Shaid of Merion Station and Devora Solomon of Wynnewood are seniors at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.