Role Models & Heroes: Barbara Kaplan (2016)

By June 14, 2016 November 15th, 2018 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models

The following essay about Hillary Clinton was written by Raven Kaplan-Karlick, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this last component can be seen below. The process improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

June 12, 2016

I believe that a role model is someone you look up to. My grandmother, Barbara Kaplan, who did good and important work her whole life, died last December. She is my role model.

My grandmother was very creative. She studied architecture, landscape architecture, and fine arts. She was a good person who loved her family and did many things to help her community, Jamaica Plain, in Boston. She was a community activist. When real estate developers had plans to sell the Coolidge Corner Theater, an art deco cinema showing art house films, she helped to preserve it as a theater so that members of the community would continue to have access to such films.

As the Executive Director of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, my grandmother helped renovate the former Heffenreffer Brewery, which became the original site of Boston Beer, now their showplace and where they brew their specialty beers. She helped to transform it into the hub of the community, along with many other successful businesses. This helped many local residents get jobs.

My grandmother also helped to convert the Angela Westover House, an eleven-bedroom, single-family residence in Jamaica Plain, into housing for low-and-moderate income elderly residents.

Like my grandmother, I aspire to do good works and to find my own way to help others in matters such as the arts and housing.

Because my grandmother wasn’t famous (she was never the next “big star”), and there wasn’t a huge amount written about her, in order to learn more about her as a person and activist, I sent out a questionnaire to some of her colleagues and friends. The first question I asked was, “What do you think inspired Barbara to become a community activist?” My grandmother’s friend, Terry, answered, “She was a very compassionate person. She felt strongly about all that was not right in the world and also had the energy and optimism to make changes. I suspect that her early sadness about the Holocaust in Europe made her extra aware of injustice. She began her community activism when she was raising her daughters in Newton. So part of it was being a mother and caring about where her children lived.”

Tom, another of Barbara’s many friends, said, “Barbara was born with a concern for justice, which may well be part of her Jewish heritage. She had a concern for beauty, which easily transformed into a concern for her environment. She loved people and surrounded herself with friends. One definition of community activism is the application of all these traits at a larger scale. I share my grandmother’s concern for people everywhere, as I see that many people don’t have access to food, housing, and health care, for instance.

The second question I asked was, “How did you feel when you were around Barbara?” Tom answered simply: “Loved.” Her friend Ruthie said, ”Barbara usually had a smile on her face. She was empathetic and always helped people solve their problems. She was selfless in that way.”

The third question was, “How do you think being a woman had an impact on her being a community activist?” Terry answered, “Part of her motivation was being a mother and caring about the community where she was raising children. Also she had a motherly, non-judgmental, taking-care-of-things-and-others way about her. She listened well, loved solving problems, and had feelings for people’s troubles, challenges, and accomplishments.”

Tom said, “I think Barbara had to expend a lot of effort in order to be heard and taken seriously, in large part because she was a woman. Experiencing that injustice probably heightened her awareness of the magnitude of injustice in everyday life.”

Diane, another friend, replied, “She felt strongly about women’s rights. I consider her a feminist.”

I always noted my grandmother’s compassion toward everyone. The first thing she did whenever she saw me was to give me a really, really big hug, which allowed me to feel her warmth and love.

The fourth question was, “How do you feel about the fact that she never became famous for her good works? How do you think she felt about this?” Her friend Fran said, “Barbara received recognition where it counted — from the organizations she helped grow. I don’t think fame was what she was after.”

Terry said, “She knew a lot of people and was happy to be part of many communities, but she preferred not to be in the limelight. She was a little shy. She was not motivated by fame or money.” I agree that one doesn’t need to be famous to help others. Being loved by people who appreciate you is a more important kind of reward.

The fifth question was, “What can you tell me about Barbara, not as a community activist, but as a person?” Mike, a colleague who became a close friend, said, “She was supportive to me personally at a very difficult time in my life. She comported herself with the utmost integrity. And she knew how to have fun!”

I believe that the way my grandmother felt about her friends is the way you should feel about your friends. I feel that way about mine. I try to be loyal and supportive to them at all times.

The sixth and final question was, “How do you think Barbara balanced work and family?” Her good friend, Ruthie, said, “Leaping through the air, spinning around, and, eventually landing on her feet, with loads of goodies for everyone.”

My grandmother accomplished so much in her life, and I believe that she felt loved and supported by those she loved. I certainly loved and admired her very much. I miss my grandmother every day and I know that my family and her friends do too.