Teaneck—During its annual commemoration at Teaneck High School, The Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee announced that it has approached the Town Council and with its approval, is exploring the feasibility of creating a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust who are related to families in the Greater Teaneck area.
The memorial is the first step in a program that also explores building a resource center in Andreas Park, on the banks of the Hackensack River. The public park is located off River Road near West Englewood Avenue and is home to a deserted carriage house which the committee would like to raze, later using its footprint for a new building. Committee members say the resource center will be unique, the only one of its kind in the region.
At that same event, Teaneck High School announced that it is expanding its Holocaust Library to the northern wing of the school library, which will be dedicated later this spring. The Teaneck High School Holocaust Resource Center was the first such center established in New Jersey. It was founded by then-Social Studies teacher Ed Reynolds in 1978, who co-wrote New Jersey’s first Holocaust curriculum with a son of survivors, Harry Furman, of Vineland, NJ.
JLBC spoke to Memorial Committee co-chairman, Bruce Prince, who is also President of the Teaneck Jewish Community Council. He told JLBC that the proposed budget for the project is $5 million, which the committee hopes to raise from local sources and other interested parties. Preliminary plans for the memorial consist of a water feature with permanent benches and a monument. Committee members said that the memorial may be similar to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC or the WTC Memorial in New York City in order not to be obtrusive, and will be marked with the names of those murdered in the Holocaust. All work to date has been done by unpaid volunteers. Project supporters hope that fundraising in the broader community will pay for development and construction. At this time, there are no funds forthcoming from any government agencies or private individuals. The process is just beginning.
Currently, the most important program of the Jewish Community Council is the annual Yom HaShoah program presented at Teaneck High School. Prince describes the council as a “group representing people from the broad community—not a function of the Orthodox, but a broad-based effort, including all branches—Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and others. “Every shul has its own personality,” he notes. “We seek to have everybody participate, to get everybody together to create the program.”
Prince points out that “The survivors are getting older; soon no one will be left. The purpose of the proposed center and memorial will be to commemorate those who have died and learn from all who survived the Holocaust.” Prince said the new center would be a center for teaching tolerance, “because we have all been unfortunate to share the experience of hate. The center will bring us together in learning from each other.”
Prince noted that six non-Jewish members of the clergy have been invited to participate in the planning. “The response to creating an interfaith dialogue is positive and enthusiastic. It is an important base for building a tolerance center.”
The committee’s vision is far wider than the Holocaust, he says. “The center is dedicated to victims of holocausts (with a small h) collectively. An important objective is to understand how we can learn and promote harmony.”
Steve Fox is co-chairman of the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee and the Memorial Committee. He told JLBC, “The Holocaust Memorial will be much different than any other in the area. It will provide an opportunity for people to dedicate a stone or a brick to a loved one who was murdered in the Shoah. It will be a place for people to bring children and grandchildren to perpetuate memories in a way no other place does. It will be a contemporary means of connecting with the past. As far as memorials go, it will be unique.”
“The Tolerance Education Center,” Fox said, “will serve the entire community at large. Integral parts of the program will feature exhibits and lectures relating to the Holocaust, and similar educational programs relating to other genocides. There is nothing like that in the entire area.” He too stressed that in having knowledge about the Holocaust and other genocides “we learn our mission is to make sure these things don’t happen again.”
“We hope the center will perpetuate memories for the next 100-200 years. We’ll be working with the town to make sure whatever is done is appropriate both to the environment and the place.”
Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, is cautiously optimistic. He told JLBC, “There is no formal proposal at this point—there’s just a conceptual drawing presented at a Council meeting.” He said the project was in an “embryonic stage….the site has been identified and (the committee) is working with the township to study the requirements for construction in a park and river-green acres area.”
He noted that no architectural drawings had been rendered or presented. “There have been no engineering studies, nothing has been done yet.” Asked whether it was actually possible to build anything at the proposed site, the mayor responded, “No one can say.” He noted that there are considerations about “certain setbacks and erosion. And there will be a lot of back and forth to see what structure can be built, and at this time, I don’t know if it can be achieved,” the Mayor cautioned. He added that the Teaneck Town Council was fully in favor of the project and that everyone supported the concept of a Center for Tolerance.
However, there has been pushback. Friends of the Hackensack River Greenway sent an open letter to the town council and the mayor to protest the site choice. They had a meeting last month that supported the project, as long as it was not on public grounds. In the letter, they wrote, in part, “Our organization is in no way opposed to such a memorial. The Holocaust was a recent, brutal and by far the largest genocide. It has special significance to many in Teaneck. The proper education and remembrance of all genocides, especially with the idea that they never happen again, is important for all of humankind.
“…We are OPPOSED for the following reasons: …The use of public park land for construction of a privately invested building sets a new precedent which could be abused in the future. … Andreas Park and the Hackensack River Greenway (A National Recreation Trail) is a busy place with limited parking. …Generally speaking, the site is not suited to the significantly increased number of visitors anticipated by the proposers. …As a result of long term overdevelopment near the Hackensack River, New Jersey State Stormwater Regulations require that no additional runoff result from any project. The proposed memorial uses non-porous materials which prevents natural absorption and increases runoff.”
They suggest that the facility be located more centrally in Teaneck near local businesses, enabling them to benefit from the increase in visitors and that such a location have access to appropriate parking for cars and school buses.
When JLBC asked Bruce Prince if he thought the project might be redundant, considering the Holocaust and Genocide Centers and museums, as well as other similar resources, within a 15-20 mile radius of Teaneck, he responded with a question, “How many people get the opportunity to visit New York City? Our proposed site would be a place where people can come to learn about the Holocaust and tolerance.”
Among the existing regional centers are the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park City; The Museum of Tolerance on East 42nd Street (a division of The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles); The Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street, (including YIVO and the Leo Baeck Institute); the Holocaust Resource Center of Spring Valley; The Ramapo Center for Holocaust Studies in Mahwah, and several universities, among them Ramapo College, Fairleigh Dickenson University, Rutgers University, Yeshiva University, the State University of New York and the City University of New York, Columbia, NYU and others, all with dedicated departments to teaching Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and who offer seminars, exhibits and programs on the subject open to the general public.
By Maxine Dovere