Teaneck’s Holocaust Memorial Committee hopes to build a Holocaust memorial and education center in a town park.
On Tuesday night, the Town Council heard a proposal from the committee to allocate a little-used section of Teaneck’s Andreas Park for the project, and voted to allow the town manager to begin discussing legal, engineering, and other issues that might be involved.
The idea had strong support from most council members, though some residents of the town at the meeting objected to the idea.
The actual memorial and educational facility would be paid for by private donations.
“It will be the only Holocaust memorial in Bergen County that would be on public property,” said Steve Fox, the committee’s co-chair.
Fox said that the first stage in the project would be building the Holocaust memorial. The second and more expensive stage would involve replacing an existing coach house building with an educational center for tolerance that could host exhibits and lecturers.
On Tuesday night, the committee presented a tentative design, drawn by artist David Abecassis. In the design, a sunken blue granite circle surrounded by six low walls lies in front of a building whose footprint matches that of the current coach house structure.
The educational center would be a place where schools and other groups can come “to hear lectures that would teach about the Holocaust as well as other genocides,” Fox said.
“I wanted something that would be inclusive,” Abecassis said. If the educational center is built – something that would require significantly more money than building just the memorial – “it could end up being for different peoples as well, but it’s still a Holocaust memorial.”
The memorial’s creators hope to sell bricks to the descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors; the names of the people they are memorializing will be engraved on the bricks, which will surround the memorial.
With New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust less than 20 miles away to the east and south, and Spring Valley’s Holocaust Museum and Study Center less than 20 miles away to the north and west, does Teaneck really need its own memorial?
Fox thinks it does. “There’s nothing in the nearby vicinity where people can bring their children and say, ‘This memorializes your grandfather who died in the Holocaust, or who was a victim who survived the Holocaust,'” he said.
“As time goes on, as the survivors become fewer and fewer, it’s important to have something physical and permanent to remind people of the Holocaust and to have a place where they could come, contemplate, and pay tribute to their ancestors.”
Fox is the child of a Holocaust survivor, and he believes that his sense of the importance of a physical memorial is shared “by anyone who is a second generation-er like I am. I think there are enough 2G or 3Gers in Bergen County who will find this to be a very significant contribution to our community,” he said.
Fox said he already has garnered support for the project from the non-Jewish community, and he has received letters of support from some non-Jewish communal organizations.
As to whether money could be raised for the project – “We don’t know the answer at this point,” he said.
The memorial itself would incur building costs and “some small maintenance.” The educational center, however, would have to be maintained through annual giving.
“You’re looking at a large amount of money in the long term,” he said. The group will start by raising funds for the memorial.
Fox said that based on the names he has heard being read at the annual Teaneck Holocaust commemoration that his committee organizes, he estimates that there are about “2,000 people whom people in our community have lost. Just on that basis alone, we think people will feel this is an important enough thing for people to donate to.”
As the largest Jewish community in Bergen County, Teaneck is an appropriate place for the county’s memorial, Fox said – but he envisions the memorial serving the surrounding towns as well.
Abecassis said the memorial serves an important purpose.
“If we remember history and think about the atrocities that have happened, it makes us better people that will hopefully not allow those things to happen again,” he said.