Barrack, JNF-USA Announce $10 Million Endowment for Study Abroad Program


Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr and Jewish National Fund-USA announced on Dec. 18 the establishment of a $10 million endowment to fund Barrack’s study abroad partnership with Alexander Muss High School in Israel.

The endowment is funded by philanthropic gifts from Leonard Barrack and the Max and Bella Stein Charitable Trust (Stein Trust) as well as other donors from the Barrack community and matched by JNF-USA.

The largest of its kind, according to a press release, the endowment will ensure the continuation of a trimester-long study abroad program for Barrack’s 11th graders. The partnership between Barrack and Muss, a JNF-USA-operated school, was established in 1994, according to Barrack Head of School Marshall Lesack. 

“Our school, which began in 1946, has been committed to Israel and has grown up — I think it’s fair to say — side-by-side with the state of Israel,” Lesack said. “We have believed for a long time, especially when we started sending groups to Israel, that immersive Israel experiences are essential for the strengthening of Jewish identity, for the commitment to the Jewish people worldwide and for the long-term strength of our Jewish community.”

“Creating an endowment assures that funds will be available in perpetuity for all students participating in this life-changing experience,” Barrack added.

High school students walk down a path, many are draped with Israeli flags.
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy students have participated in a study abroad program at Alexander Muss High School in Israel since 1994. | Courtesy of Alex Stroker

Over an 11- or 12-week period, students from Barrack are immersed in an “experiential education” of Israel, according to Muss’ website. In addition to fulfilling their secular and Judaic studies, students travel to the historic sites in Jewish and Israeli history.

“Imagine sitting on a hill in Israel and hearing about the battle between David and Goliath, to a location in Israel and seeing where in 1948 it was a major battle founding the state of Israel,” said Joe Wolfson, the Muss board of governors chair. “You learn it, but you live it and visualize it.”

For Barrack alumni, the trip had a profound impact on their Jewish identities.

Mike Stein of the Stein Trust said that not only did his daughter, who attended Barrack, return from a semester at Muss transformed, but her experience, in turn, transformed the family.

“She returned with a deeper bond to not only her Judaism but to her classmates,” Stein said. 

According to Russell Robinson, JNF-USA CEO, the Muss study abroad program has practical implications as well. He said that abroad programs in high school are growing increasingly popular and reflect well on college applications.

“The whole idea of leadership of being away from home, of having to do your own studying, how you deal with dorm environments — all that gives you much more ability to develop better students,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s goal for the endowment is to not only have it sustained indefinitely but for it to be integrated into Barrack’s tuition, putting less pressure on parents to have to pay for the program.

Lesack agreed that the need for the endowment is there. About 50% of Barrack students receive some sort of financial assistance.

“We are committed to Jewish education,” Lesack said. “We have families from across socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as across the region.”

Alexander Muss High School was created in 1972 as a way for students from both secular and religious, public and private schools to complete an immersive educational experience in Israel. Since its founding, the school has hosted more than 40,000 students.

In addition to its trimester-long study abroad program for 11th graders, Barrack holds a shorter trip for eighth graders. While Lesack sees the trip as a way for the school to show its commitment to Israel, Robinson sees it as Israel’s investment in the future generation.

“We’re just going to build the leadership for the Jewish organizations of tomorrow,” Robinson said.

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