The Ufberg-Renbaum Family: Loving Where They Learn at Barrack Hebrew Academy
Curriculum, community, and compassion find common ground at Bryn Mawr's academically challenging Jewish day school.
Honor, courage, kindness, and community are essential Jewish values. At Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, a pluralistic Jewish day school that welcomes students from all observance levels, these are the core Derech Eretz values (translated as “way of the land,” an ethical and responsible way to live) that guide every student, teacher, class, and program.
Barrack students and faculty constantly strive to bring these crucial values of honor, courage, kindness, and community to each other and to the world. At Barrack, students and families are welcomed into a close-knit community. Students feel a natural bond with their teachers and staff, knowing that their differences are acknowledged and embraced. Students are encouraged to question, discuss, and debate, but also to listen.
“Our values-based education comes from two thousand years of educating and peoplehood,” says Jennifer Groen, ’91, Director of Strategy and Enrollment Management at Barrack. “We offer a place for everyone to find their own path. Athletes, actors, photographers, inventors. There’s something for everyone here and limitless opportunities to make a difference.”
For Drs. Leslie and David Ufberg, both hardworking physicians looking for rigorous academic programs for their kids, the decision to enroll all four of their children at Barrack was simple. As a product of a Jewish elementary school education, David knew he wanted a strong Jewish foundation combined with the best possible academic experience for his kids; for Leslie, to whom a Jewish school wasn’t available at all when she was growing up, the idea of an integrated education was alluring. So much so that in 2005, in order to begin their children’s journey towards Barrack, the Ufbergs moved to the Main Line to be closer to the school. Ufberg children Alexa, Zach, and Jordie each attended Perelman Jewish Day School from kindergarten to fifth grade before graduating to Barrack. Sami, now in fifth grade at Perelman, is the last of the four to join her siblings as a Barrack student; she will enter next year, part of the incoming class of 2027.
“We both had a strong Jewish background,” says David. “Our family always had a deep connection to Judaism and Israel. I knew Barrack could nurture the seed that was planted at Perelman and foster the kids’ Jewish identity and cultivate their identities as kind, compassionate kids, as strong men and women.”
Students come to the Bryn Mawr campus from over sixty zip codes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware for Barrack’s challenging academic programming, small class sizes, and integrated study of Jewish texts and values. Along with strong athletics programs, various student-led publications, renowned theater productions, and more than fifty clubs, Barrack provides endless opportunities and a unique educational experience.
“They travel from up to an hour and a half,” says Jennifer Groen. “For them, this is the only place to be.”
“Barrack: worth the schlep,” says Leslie, quoting the tongue-in-cheek Barrack bumper sticker. “That sums it all up.”
Solidifying its commitment to the Jewish homeland, Barrack offers two opportunities to travel across the globe to Israel. In eighth grade, students take part in a ten-day trip to Israel, bringing their school studies to life. Learning through the lens of history, global politics, religion, and modern Israeli life, students discover Israel first through textbooks, songs, films, narratives, and mixed media and finally through a trip to see their Jewish homeland. For the fall semester of their junior year, Barrack students have the opportunity to study at the Alexander Muss High School in a suburb of Tel Aviv. There, they are immersed in Jewish culture and history as they intensify their practice of the Hebrew language and grow as citizens of the world. Eleventh-graders returning from Muss come back with newfound passion for Judaism and a lifelong connection to the land of Israel.
“The Muss program allows students to see the world and take their education outside the classroom,” says David, whose son Zach just returned from his life-altering trip. “They get a chance to actually experience Jewish history firsthand. With the independence of studying abroad, they make their own personal connection with Judaism and Israel. While still taking all of their regular high school courses, they get a core course history of Israel starting in biblical times, visiting sites, to live it and feel it. That really makes them appreciate what they have here.”
“No matter where you are in the Jewish experience,” adds Leslie, “it resonates. You learn a lot.”
The exposure to global ideas, along with the challenging, varied academic programming, including an innovative STEAM Institute, means parents can rest assured their children are not simply as prepared as other high school students for college but far better prepared. Barrack students take eight academic courses per trimester, all of which encourage incisive questioning and debate. All students take Hebrew and have the option for another foreign language. Most students also participate in activities that run the gamut from Women’s Empowerment Club to varsity baseball to a student-led publication on geo-politics, arriving at college well-rounded and confident in their strengths.
“Our oldest worked really hard academically,” says David of their eldest daughter. “Alexa was awarded an academic scholarship to Muhlenberg, and she’s finding that Barrack prepared her so well that she’s managing her time and energies and is excelling.”
While at Barrack, Alexa, who intends to move on to dental school after college, expressed her passion for science in the Girls Who Code club, her love of sports on the varsity lacrosse team, and her civic-mindedness by serving on the Derech Eretz Council and the Student Association.
“We have four very different kids,” says David. “They all have different interests.”
Junior Zach plays a sport every season and says, “Being involved in sports at Barrack connects you with students of all ages. This forms an inclusive environment where you feel comfortable expanding your social horizons.”
Zach also takes advantage of Barrack’s Innovation STEAM Lab and competes with other schools nationwide in DECA, Barrack’s business club. Jordie, in 8th grade, is also enjoying all that Barrack has to offer, including the camaraderie of the tennis and swim teams. As a member of the human rights club and Hesed (community outreach) club, Jordie is the Ufberg family’s social activist. “Barrack keeps me in touch with my Jewish values and encourages me to think and give back.” Sami, with just half a year until she graduates from fifth grade, is eager to join her siblings and the Barrack legacy.
“People think, oh, it’s a small school, will my child be able to be an individual and thrive?” says David of the Jewish perspective in the Barrack experience. “[Barrack] really encourages kids to be who they are. It’s inclusive. Instead of being a homogenous environment, you have kids from all walks, from all different environments. Within the bounds of the Barrack community they really forge a special bond. There are alumni that still show up for events. Parents come back decades later and send their children there.”
“When it comes down to it,” says Leslie Ufberg, “you just want your kids to be in an environment where they feel supported and nurtured.”
The bottom line for all parents: you want your kids to love where they learn. At Barrack Academy, they do.