Stephen Berk believes in the Holocaust memorial proposed for Troy-Schenectady Road in Niskayuna.
"This is a very, very good and appropriate memorial," Berk said Wednesday night, during the first of two public forums to discuss the memorial planned by Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial LLC. "If there was ever a time when a Holocaust memorial should be built, this is the time.
"Dead Jews in Pittsburgh, dead Jews in San Diego," added Berk, a professor of Holocaust and Jewish Studies at Union College. "Attacks on Muslims, attacks on gays and lesbians. Discrimination is in the air, this is the time to build a memorial."
About 100 people attended the forum, held inside Niskayuna High School's Little Theatre. Fourteen people spoke during the public comments part of the 90-minute session, with most speaking in favor of the project first proposed by Dr. Michael Lozman.
Lozman and others who have worked on the project - including Neil Golub of Price Chopper/Market 32, Rabbi Matthew Cutler of Congregation Gates of Heaven and Dan Dembling of Dembling + Dembling Architects in Albany - all spoke before public commentary began.
Golub talked about people coming together and working on a redesign of the memorial; the original design received mixed reviews during a public hearing held before the Niskayuna Town Board in April 2018.
"What is really so astonishing is when we first started out we had no clue if we were going to be able to resolve this," Golub said. "But when you bring people together and they're of one common mind that they want to find a solution, it's amazing what can happen. It's what's happened in Schenectady, and it's what's happened here. And I think we've found a solution that everyone can buy into."
The new plan for the memorial includes a large Star of David-type structure that would be built on land adjacent to Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery.
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. A version of broken railroad tracks - representing the rails over which Jews were transported to concentration camps - are on the exterior of the "star." A boxcar is represented in a red brick wall, with faces peering out in a couple sections.
Artist conceptions of the memorial were shown on the stage screen.
Lozman believes a Holocaust memorial is important for its educational value.
"The Holocaust is becoming ancient history to young people today," he said. "The number of deniers of the holocaust is ever-increasing. These are all elements that need to be dealt with."
Lozman also believes more members of the community will feel more comfortable with the contemporary design.
"But we didn't want to lose any of the essential ingredients that the older design had," Lozman added. "I think we did accomplish that and I'm very proud of what we have and we're hoping to reach out to the community, we want them to feel proud of what we have as well.
"This is not our project," Lozman added. "This is a project for everyone in the community and not only that but for future generations as well."
Lozman also praised the relationship his group shared with Albany Roman Catholic Diocese Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who donated the two acres of cemetery-owned on which the memorial - if it wins town approval - will be constructed. Lozman believes the interfaith project is one of the first times the Catholic church and Jewish community have come together to develop a Holocaust memorial.
Speakers were all allowed three minutes to voice their opinions.
Educator and author Linda Rozell-Shannon was first, and spoke in favor.
"This memorial is an opportunity for the town of Niskayuna and the entire Capital District to say that we're taking a stand not just against anti-Semitism but against hate and against ignorance," she said.
"We should all be ecstatic over the spirit of cooperation that put this together," Rozell-Shannon added.
Jeff Handelman of Cayuga Road said he was skeptical over the first memorial idea and design. He said he began listening to the people proposing the project.
"I'm incredibly impressed with what they have done in a short period of time," Handelman said. "I live about a half-mile away from that site, I know a number of my neighbors are not thrilled about the location, but all of the questions I had have been answered."
Meisha Rosenberg, another town resident, said her concerns had also been soothed. Ivan Vamos, a holocaust survivor who tells his stories to children, said he would be proud of the Niskayuna memorial.
"I'm delighted to see the coordination and much, much improved design for the site," Vamos said. "I can look forward to going to that memorial if the town, in their generosity, is willing to support it."
Members of the Niskayuna's Town Board and Planning Board were in attendance at the meeting.
Not all speakers were in favor. Town resident Lorene Zabin complimented the proposed memorial on its beauty, but believes a better location should be found.
"This is a worthy project," she said. "If we can find two acres to replace the two (Most Holy Redeemer) acres, I would be the first to sign up."
Mary McClaine, who lives in Schenectady, also questioned the location.
"This project is asking the neighbors to live with man's inhumanity to man for the rest of their lives," she said. "It's the wrong place, build it elsewhere."
Bob DiSarro, who lives across the street from the proposed site and was a vocal opponent of the plan in 2018, attended the meeting but did not speak.
"Next week," he said. "We wanted to hear what was being said, and everybody from the neighborhood pretty much will talk next week."
The next forum will be held next Wednesday.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]