Outdoor space dedicated in memory of alumna
Fellow alumni, family, and friends of Barbra Barth Feldman '86 gathered for a dedication ceremony.
On Oct. 7, during Homecoming Weekend, members from the Class of 1986 returned to Brandeis for the dedication of the Barbra Barth Feldman ’86 Circle in Ridgewood Quad. The Barbra Barth Feldman ’86 Circle is a new outdoor space for students, complete with new benches, a center platform, pathways, and greenery.
Brandeis alumni built the space in memory of Feldman, their close friend. She passed away in August 2019, and in the wake of her passing, Stephen Weiss ’86, a friend of Feldman, was the first person to suggest doing something in her honor. Feldman’s friends originally proposed a fire pit on campus, but they were ultimately not allowed to have one. However, they knew they wanted to create a space on campus that would allow students to gather and have fun in the same way that Feldman brought people together throughout her life.
Daughter to Mrs. Janet Dubin Barth and Dr. Nathan “Nat” Barth, Feldman grew up in Lawrence, Long Island, with her older sister Rachele Barth Tinkelman. According to an interview with the Justice on Oct. 4, one of Feldman’s friends, Amy Bergner ’86, described the family as tight-knit and extremely devoted to each other. As adults, Feldman and Tinkelman lived six houses apart to raise their children. Feldman is survived by two children: Andrew Barth Feldman and Samantha Barth Feldman. Barbra loved the theater and passed on that same passion to her kids, the most salient example being Andrew, who performed in “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway.
There were two main reasons for choosing Ridgewood Quad for the memorial. Feldman lived in Ridgewood Quad for two years as a first-year and sophomore, and many friends recalled fond memories there. Moreover, according to the plans for the space, the University recognized the need for more outdoor spaces and had already been thinking about ways to improve Ridgewood Quad.
Feldman’s friends wished to build a space that evoked the same qualities that her friends cherished in Feldman: inclusivity, generosity, warmth, and openness. Nothing about the architecture of the space was accidental, and many structural components paid tribute to Feldman’s life and personality. They designed a circular space to represent Feldman’s inclusivity and how she always had room for one more person. Bergner stated that they wanted the design to be soft and round rather than harsh with sharp edges. There are blue glow-in-the-dark stones scattered in the concrete, and the color blue is a reference to a multitude of things, representing Brandeis, Feldman’s love of the ocean, and the musical Dear Evan Hansen as an homage to her son (the main character Evan Hansen wears a blue polo shirt in the musical).
The center stage is a tribute to Feldman’s love of theater and connects to the original idea of a fire pit. It additionally acts as a sun deck. The sun deck references memories of Feldman and her friends suntanning together. In an Oct. 11 interview with the Justice, another friend of Feldman’s, Bonnie Notis, reminisced on how they would put aluminum foil on record album cases to suntan on the bank of the Charles River. The center platform is made of concrete and is illuminated by LED lights that emanate from the center. Additionally, five new redbud trees were planted in the quad.
Planning started soon after Feldman passed away. Aaron Louison ’11, the executive director of the Department of Leadership Annual Giving for Brandeis University Institutional Advancement Division, was the development liaison for the project, and he worked with donors to fundraise for construction, communicated the donors’ interests, and collaborated with Brandeis’ facilities staff, architects, designers, and contractors. They spent the next year fundraising, and from fall 2019 to spring 2021, they worked on architectural plans. After they finalized the design, the next six to seven months consisted of a final period of fundraising to reach their monetary goal for the project. The group ultimately raised $200,000 from around 100 individual donors. Construction began in early June 2022, and the space was finished just before the academic year started.
Brandeis hired Studio 2112 to design the space, and Brandeis facilities staff managed the entire construction process. Facilities staff who led this project include Michael McGarry, Casey Russo, and Dan Feldman. Multiple companies handled different aspects of the construction. Joe Parker, an electrician from Amore Electric, donated all the parts and labor for the project because he was touched by the story behind the space.
Tasks and responsibilities were split between two committees: the fundraising committee and a smaller core committee. The fundraising committee included 20 people, all alumni from the class of 1986 and friends of Feldman. Out of that initial committee, a smaller committee of six reviewed architectural plans, proposed ideas for the design, and had the final say on larger decisions. The core committee consisted of Fran Zarrett Sloan ’86, Sharon Green Leighton ’86, Amy Bergner ’86, Danielle Klainberg ’86, Bonnie Notis and Debbi Winograd Shedlin ’86. Two members of both committees, Shedlin and Bergner, were also co-chairs, and they managed both sides of the process and took the lead on the whole project. Since the dedication happened during the 35th reunion for the class of 1986, there was also a separate reunion committee whose goal was to encourage alumni to come back for the dedication and other reunion events. The chairs of the reunion committee were Staci Clopper Berkson ’86, Richard Hirsch ’86, and Klainberg ’86.
There were some difficulties in the process due to the pandemic. The core committee planned to visit the campus in March 2020 to tour Ridgewood Quad and discuss the plan for the space with the designers and facilities staff. Because the beginning of the pandemic conflicted directly with that meeting, the core committee was never able to come to campus and meet with them. At first, they did not form alternative plans because they did not know how long the pandemic was going to last. They waited until early fall 2020 to move forward with the project because of the uncertainty on when the pandemic would end. From then on, meetings with architects and facilities were done virtually.
During the dedication event, alumni and Feldman’s friends gathered around the Barbra Barth Feldman ’86 Circle in Ridgewood Quad and caught up with each other while Feldman’s favorite music played in the background. Louison gave an introduction before handing it off to Corey Notis ’84, Feldman’s Community Advisor when she lived in Ridgewood and one of her closest friends. Notis shared many sentimental memories about Feldman including when they first met and meeting Feldman’s family. He called her the “quintessential it-girl,” and talked about how they became like family. Being friends with Feldman was very easy, and when people entered her orbit, according to Notis, they never wanted to leave.
Notis described Feldman as a kind person who would help anyone out with anything. He recalled how when Feldman spoke, it was a combination of laughing and talking at the same time, which he called “laugh talk.” He spoke about Feldman’s love for sweaters from Milan, photography, and beaches, as well as memories of going to Steve’s Ice Cream during the winter and a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. He said, “We’re all here because we’ve been touched very deeply by Barbra. Our lives have been made better because of her friendship, and we lost a part of ourselves in her passing.”
Retired Sociology Professor Emeritus Gordie Fellman, who taught a course that Feldman took during her time at Brandeis, also gave a speech. Fellman praised the space as a wonderful legacy of Feldman’s “innate ability to create a welcoming space.”
Lastly, a video made by Feldman’s son, Andrew, was played, since he could not make it to the event. He described her as “the most incredible person I’ve ever known” and discussed how she was able to make people feel seen. He talked about how his mom’s friends from Brandeis have become his family and stated that he believes building a space for the purpose of bringing people together at Brandeis is a fitting tribute because “she’s continuing to bring people together and to make new friends. … It’s a real honor.”After the speeches, all the attendees gathered around the circle for one last song and a moment of contemplation.
According to an interview with the Justice on Oct. 5, Shedlin said that one of the most important goals for the space is for it to be used by future generations. The space is already showing current students’ influence on it. For instance, Louison stated that when he talked to some students relaxing in the space, they called it the “Barbra benches” rather than the “Barbra Circle.” While the circle aims to commemorate a past alumna, it also will encourage community members to look toward the future, serving as a space for future students to connect with each other like Feldman did at Brandeis.