NISKAYUNA -- Sixteen people so far have signed up to speak at Wednesday's forum to discuss the Jewish Holocaust Memorial proposed for Troy-Schenectady Road.
The forum, the first of two public meetings to discuss the project, will begin at 7 p.m. inside Niskayuna High School's Little Theatre. The theater can be accessed through the school’s Nott Street entrance.
People with opinions about the memorial have been encouraged to sign up with the town if they intend to attend the forum and make public statements. Town Planner Laura Robertson said people also can sign up to speak when they arrive at the meeting.
Speaker will be called to the podium and allowed three minutes to voice opinions.
"We just don't want people standing for like an hour," said Niskayuna town Planner Laura Roberson, explaining the pre-registration. "That's not good for anybody."
Town officials asked prospective speakers to use event management website Eventbrite. People may still sign up by contacting Robertson -- emailing her at [email protected] or calling her at 518-386-4530.
Dr. Michael Lozman and his group, Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial LLC, has proposed a memorial for a two-acre plot of donated land inside Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery off 2501 Troy-Schenectady Road.
Because the land is zoned for residential use, the Town Board must grant a special-use permit before any work begins.
The second forum will take place Wednesday, May 22, also at 7 p.m. and also inside the Little Theatre.
Both forums will be moderated by Town Attorney Paul Briggs, who will open the event with an introduction of the project and a brief overview of the meeting’s format. The updated project will then be formally presented by the designers.
Following the presentation, members of the public will have an opportunity to share comments with the applicant and town officials. While pre-registration is not required for attendance, people who have registered to speak will be heard first during the comment session.
Lozman and others who worked on the revised project design, which features a large Star of David-type structure with information and quotes about the Holocaust on star "walls," met with the editorial board and other members of the Daily Gazette staff on Monday.
Lozman, who since 2001 has worked with college students to restore Jewish cemeteries in eastern Europe, said he believes the updated design will win support. "I'm looking forward to an easier presentation than we had the last time," he told Gazette board members.
The "last time" was April 10, 2018, when about 120 people packed the board room at Niskayuna Town Hall and spoke both for and against the project.
"This is a message against hate, prejudice and bigotry," Lozman also said, adding the design could still be "tweaked" to ensure Niskayuna gets the best memorial possible.
Scott Lewendon, a landscape architect who has worked on the project redesign, said the new memorial design preserves 40 feet of vegetation in front of the structure. The new memorial is about the size of a traffic roundabout.
"The memorial is a lot more compact," Lewendon said. "It takes up less space, it's going to be less visible by the passing public and the neighbors."
Lozman discussed the project in depth during a recent question-and-answer interview.
Q: There have been new designs created for your proposal, a Holocaust memorial. What are your impressions of the new designs, and how would you describe the process — the time and work that led to the new designs?
A: The original design was applauded by many Auschwitz survivors and their families living in the Capital District because they felt it truthfully memorialized the horrible experiences of the Holocaust and would serve future generations well as a reminder of where hatred and prejudice can lead.
However, not everyone in the Jewish community felt the same way and it is understandable that a generation far removed from the Holocaust could find the original design controversial — perhaps with the same intensity that the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Iwo Jima memorial, and other memorials faced controversy. This is not an uncommon response. Through the land use approval process, it became apparent to me and the Board of Directors of the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial that to gain greater community support, a new design was necessary and we had a great team work with us toward this accomplishment. We have a memorial now that we can all stand behind and one that will serve us and our children well over the generations.
Q: If the designs are approved by the town and the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial becomes a reality, what kind of emotional experience will come with a visit? Feelings of peace, reflection, sadness ... what do you hope people will take away from this experience?
A: The message of the memorial, as developed by the working group of representatives selected by the Jewish Federation and the Holocaust Memorial Board is:
"The Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial is designed to provide an experience to learn and better understand the anti-Semitism, hatred and brutality that led to the Holocaust; to preserve the memory of the victims by honoring and sharing their personal life stories; to 'Never Forget, Never Again;' and utilize the difficult and compelling lessons of this chapter in our history to inspire others to create a world without hate and to generate hope for the future.”
In essence, these messages instructs us that we must be our brother's keeper or chaos, brutality, and indifference will prevail and lead to the destruction of civilization. When faced with this awareness of our collective responsibility toward each other, the emotions felt by each visitor will rest deep in their heart, and if it sparks that touch of spirituality, we can have hope for a more peaceful future.
Q: Some have criticized the earlier design, which included the high wall and box car symbolizing the Jewish suffering at concentration camps. These are now no longer part of the exhibit. Are they things you did not want to see leave? Did you think there was a place for them, perhaps in a more subtle presentation?
A: We always felt that there are many ways to accomplish the same goal, and the original design was one possibility, of many, to communicate the message of the memorial. If one does an internet search of Holocaust memorials, the use of a box car is a frequent icon. Of the six million Jews murdered during the Nazi era, it is estimated that four million were transported by rail. The symbolism attached to a box car or a wall is a personal one and for some, it may be too difficult to accept in a memorial, while for others, it is the most appropriate symbol.
The design process we engaged in with representatives of the Jewish Federation and other stakeholders in the Jewish community gave us the opportunity to re-imagine the memorial and develop a design that, we believe, speaks to both those who desire a more literal representation and those who desire something more emblematic. We think our new design encompasses the message clearly in a medium that the entire community can stand behind.
Q: Are there hints of these earlier design elements? It looks like "tracks" are on the "floor" of the memorial, via artist conception. And wire fences are visible, with the high stone towers. Did you want some of these earlier elements represented, even in a small way?
A: The final design was a consensus of opinions through a very thorough design process. As a working group of ten individuals (five members designated by the Jewish Federation and led by Neil Golub, and five members designated by the Board of Directors of the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial and led by me), we had nine meetings under the guidance of Dan Dembling, the memorial architect, and Michael Blau of Adirondack Studios, a theatrical design and production studio, and all agreed on the final design. In fact, I don't believe that we ever needed to take a vote; the design just evolved through a process of discussion, discovery and ultimately consensus.
Mr. Blau had considerable experience in blending a variety of ideas of what the memorial could look like into a united expression, and the result proves he was extremely successful. This collaborative re-imagining of the design could not have happened without the hard work and commitment of all the members of our working group, including Mr. Dembling and Mr. Blau. The elements that went into the design were an expression that originated from all of us.
Q: Has the long process strengthened your resolve to see this memorial become a reality?
A: This has indeed been a long process. I strongly felt that the Capital District should have a Holocaust memorial for the reasons mentioned. Unfortunately, current events have shown that the importance of having this memorial to help teach against hatred has become ever more apparent.
When I started to undertake this project almost two years ago, I approached the Jewish Federation to join with me. During the following year, with architects, engineers, and attorneys volunteering time to help get the project under way, I invited the Federation's participation several more times but we were unfortunately unable to make this happen.
During the land use approval process, the town requested that I reach back out again to the Jewish Federation to build consensus on the memorial design and I am happy to report that the Federation is now on board, are wonderful supporters and have contributed a great amount of time and energy to bring this to reality. They played an equal role throughout the design process and I am truly indebted for their participation — in particular Mr. Golub, Rabbi Matthew Cutler (Congregation Gates of Heaven), Rob Kovach (executive director of the Federation), Jill Goodman (vice chair of the Federation) and Evelyn Loeb. We have made some really great friends during the process. At the last board meeting of the Federation, their board voted unanimously to support the design.
An enormous amount of credit also goes to the sterling leadership that (Town Board member) Denise Murphy McGraw played in joining our groups together. She had the vision and skills to bring out the best in all of us.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]