The controversy dates back to March 2007, when Akiba Hebrew Academy announced that it had accepted a $5 million gift and would be changing its name. The gift came from Leonard Barrack, a prominent Philadelphia securities lawyer and the newly elected board chair of the Philadelphia federation. (A onetime finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Barrack is, ironically enough, supporting Hillary Clinton.) At Barrack’s request, Akiba renamed itself the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in honor of his older brother, who died in a plane crash at age 27.
The name change raised hackles among alumni, not least because the school had juggled donations and money previously. In late 1998, Ruth and Raymond Perelman, parents of billionaire financier Ronald Perelman, offered to donate $2 million to the school if it would substitute the Perelman name for that of first-century sage Rabbi Akiba. Alumni and students protested the proposed name change in advance of the school board’s vote, and the name change failed to pass. In the case of Barrack’s gift, the board members announced it after they had voted to accept. (Full disclosure: Jane Eisner, who was nominated this week to become the next editor of this newspaper, is a member of the school’s board.)
In response, aggrieved Akiba alumni, particularly from the class of 1971, organized to protest the name change and to urge the board to reconsider. As part of that push, a number of alumni submitted their arguments to the Exponent this month in the form of a letter to the editor and a full-page advertisement. Both charged that the school had allowed federation politics, and Barrack’s stature, to influence the board’s decision.
The Exponent would publish neither the advertisement nor the letter. Jonathan Tobin, executive editor of the Exponent, said that he chose not to publish the letter because the topic was no longer newsworthy.
“I would say we reported what happened, and we certainly printed comments about it,” Tobin told the Forward. “The issue resolved itself.”
Meanwhile, the paper’s advertising department rejected the ad submitted by the alumni. Alumnus Dan Kaplan says that the paper’s general manager told him that the paper would not accept the ad because it was “divisive and contrary to what the Exponent is attempting to do in the community.” In turn, the Exponent forwarded the advertisement to the school’s incoming headmaster, who e-mailed Kaplan and asked to talk.
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