NISKAYUNA -- The Holocaust memorial proposed for the town has been significantly redesigned.
Grim and dark have been replaced by peaceful and reflective.
The new site plan for the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial includes a large Star of David-type structure inside Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery on Route 7.
In renderings of the memorial, Holocaust subjects such as "Names," "Numbers," "Bearing Witness," "Final Solution," "Kristallnacht" and "Never Again" are on the "walls" of the star.
Six large, slanted stone towers rise from the center of the Star of David.
Park benches line the exterior of the star, where visitors can sit, pause and reflect. Wire fences are part of the structure. The memorial will be about the same size as a traffic roundabout, officials say.
People can see the new design in an online presentation that features 30 concepts of the proposed memorial's components. See below or type in https://www.niskayuna.org/
Town officials are hoping for public viewings because they're hoping for public input. The town's Planning Department will host two "community conversation” forums on the memorial on Wednesday, May 15 and Wednesday, May 22 in the Little Theatre at Niskayuna High School.
Both forums will begin at 7 p.m.
In November 2017, Latham orthodontist Dr. Michael Lozman proposed construction of a $1.4 million memorial on two acres of land donated by the Roman Catholic cemetery. Because the land is zoned for residential use, the Town Board must grant a special-use permit before any work begins.
In March 2018, the project was approved by the town's Planning Board.
But the memorial became controversial. About 120 people packed the board room at Niskayuna Town Hall on April 10, 2018 and spoke for and against the idea during a public hearing.
Some people who spoke against the project did not like grim reminders of the Holocaust contained in the initial plan. A rail car in the memorial would have shown visitors how Jews and others were transported to concentration camps during World War II. A tall, dark wall would have symbolized a gas chamber.
Others were concerned the memorial would adversely affect traffic patterns and drastically change their residential neighborhood.
Supporters believed the memorial would become a way to remember the millions of Jews who died in concentration camps under the Nazis and serve as an educational reminder that such atrocities must never happen again.
There also were concerns Lozman never consulted the Jewish community when he planned and designed his project.
The Town Board scheduled a vote on the special use permit four times in 2018 and postponed the vote each time at the applicant's request. The last postponement removed the vote from the board's December agenda.
The team that worked on the new design included members of CDJHM, the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, the Anti-Defamation
League of New York/New Jersey, and Congregation Gates of Heaven in Niskayuna.
“This has been an incredible, collaborative process and it has resulted in a new design for a Holocaust Memorial that will absolutely be a treasure for the Capital Region," Lozman said in a statement released Friday. "It
will be educational, inspirational a strong reminder of why we must never tolerate hate, and a fitting tribute to the survivors and the millions who perished."
“I am thankful for the participation and leadership of prominent representatives from the Jewish community," Lozman added, "including the Jewish Federation.”
Congregation Gates of Heaven Rabbi Matthew Cutler called attention to the April 29 shooting at a California synagogue, in which a woman was killed and three were injured.
"Enough hate and violence," Cutler said in the statement. "Now, more than ever, we need a Holocaust Memorial to teach current and future generations about the evils of anti-Semitism and hate. I was proud to be involved in such a collaborative process that will produce a lasting Holocaust Memorial for northeastern New York that will be appropriately solemn and
Neil Golub, executive chairman of the board of the Golub Corp. and a leader in the Jewish community, last spring was asked by the town to facilitate discussions between Lozman's group -- Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial LLC -- and groups representing Jewish people.
"We met for about nine months and during that period of time our goal was to see if we could find a solution for what at the time was a rather awkward design," Golub said Thursday night. "It was my responsibility to bring the groups together and see if we could find a resolution for that."
Golub said resolution has been achieved. He believes the group has developed a memorial people will consider a nice facility for the community.
"I think it's a design now that most people can be happy with in terms of what it is we're trying to accomplish," Golub said. "I think there will be people who will want to come and learn what happened, maybe better understand why it happened and leave with the feeling, 'You know what, this is terrible. We really can't let something like this happen again.'"
Golub said the process involved group study of about 30 memorials from all over the world.
"We did that together," he said. "We identified what we liked and what we didn't like, what was good and what was not good."
In some of the artist conceptions, quotes are seen on some of the walls. "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew," read one, part of Martin Niemöller's famous poem. "For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living," reads another, from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
Niskayuna Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said she was pleased all parties involved in the process were able to develop a "much improved" concept for the memorial.
"Now I am eager to see how our community reacts," she said in an email note. "From the beginning, my Town Board colleagues and I promised a deliberative, inclusive process. ... Now it is time for the community forums we promised months ago."
McGraw said a full presentation will be given during each forum. There will also be time for questions and comments.
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said she is excited about attending the forums. She saluted Golub for his experience in working with "world class designers" for Price Chopper/Market 32 projects.
"He brought these individuals in to work on this design and they've worked on memorials throughout the country and internationally," Syed said. "They're pros at this and they took it seriously, they really had a purpose in deriving a new design.
"So I'm really going to be interested in hearing from the residents at the forums to hear what they think and how they feel," Syed added.
Others in the Jewish community are proud of the new design.
“I am thrilled that we now have a truly remarkable final design concept, which was unanimously approved by the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York's board," said Rob Kovach, the federation's president. "I think once people have a chance to see the new design, they will find it as amazing as I do.”
Town officials have said significant changes in the original site plan will require the applicant to once again appear before the town's Planning Board.
Funding for the project will take more discussion.
"That's another question that will be up to Dr. Lozman's group," Golub said. "Once it's approved then they're going to have to sit down and figure out with the architects, 'OK, what's this going to cost.'"
Funding was not part of the first group's purpose.
"Our responsibility was to find a design that people could accept and feel comfortable with," Golub said. "That was our job and we got it done."
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]