About 28 years ago, Barak Hermann graduated college with an associate’s degree in hotel marketing and a bachelor’s in social science with a minor in Judaic studies, unsure of what he would do with his future.
He took on a position as a youth director at a synagogue, working at a Jewish overnight camp. He was watching his friends go on to law school and medical school and decided to ask his camp director for career advice.
“I don’t know what to do,” Hermann recalled a younger version of himself saying. “I need to have a career. I like business, I like Jewish.”
His camp director recommended he look into working at a JCC and introduced him to someone at the Suffolk Y JCC, where Hermann started working as a youth and camp director. The JCC combined his interests well. Over the next eight years, he held a variety of roles at the Suffolk Y JCC, including as Jewish program director and director of outreach and engagement. Even when he left the Suffolk Y JCC, he continued in the JCC world, working as chief operating officer at the JCC MetroWest and as executive director at the JCC of Central New Jersey.
Today, Hermann, 50, serves as the CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore. With locations in Owings Mills and Park Heights, Baltimore’s JCC is the oldest in the country.
“Back then [when I started working for the JCC], my interest was that I wanted to work with a variety of different Jews. … It would be terrific to serve the breadth of Jewish life,” said Hermann, who grew up on Long Island, the son of a Reform rabbi and an Israeli. “Over my 25 years, I’ve seen demographics change, trends change, interfaith marriage, biracial marriages, changing neighborhoods, the Jewish people being widely accepted in society overall. Today, [we] not only use this platform to serve the breadth of Jewish life, but to use our services and values to bring the entire community together.”
Outside of his role at the JCC, Hermann is a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, as well as Bolton Street Synagogue, where his wife, Cory Hermann, works as director of education. They live in Owings Mills and have three sons, Jacob, Zachary and Jonah.
Hermann said he was interested in working at Baltimore’s JCC because of the size of its platform, its historic nature and for the opportunity to serve a diverse breadth of Jewish life.
In his time at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, some of Hermann’s accomplishments have included overseeing the completion of the JCC’s strategic plan, reimagining the J Camps program and working with LifeBridge Health to put a greater focus on wellness, rather than just fitness.
Like all organizations, the JCC has had to navigate the impact of the pandemic. They’ve done so by establishing programs like the Virtual J and Gordon Outdoors. Even after the pandemic is over, Hermann said the JCC will continue with virtual programming.
Amid rising anti-Semitism and an increasingly polarized world, Hermann sees the JCC as a place that brings people together across differences. Whether they’re Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, black or white, everyone is welcome at the JCC, he said.
“The reason why I love this work is, even though I grew up in the Reform movement, and I tend to have a more liberal ideology, I’ve just been in love with the Jewish people,” Hermann said. “I have a pretty strong empathy [and belief] that people need to make their own Shabbos and be Jewish in a way that speaks to them, but that Jewish values are for everybody, that rituals are beautiful and they bring family together. And again, you can do them in a way that works for you.”