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Monday, September 16, 2019

For two years a group of Teaneck residents has been trying to establish a Holocaust memorial in the township. We believe the memorial will serve all of Bergen County as a symbol of tribute to those who were killed during the Holocaust and as an educational and moral symbol to inspire tolerance and respect.

Our preferred site was Andreas Park, on River Road and West Englewood Avenue, but deed restrictions made that impossible. Brett Park, at the intersection of River Road and Winthrop Road, was brought to our attention and we presented a proposal to the township council meeting at the end of June, 2014. To date, no actions have been taken.

We are asking the community to help us in this quest, and to come together to explain the purpose of the memorial to the Council and tell them why it is important.

Untold numbers of Holocaust survivors, the eyewitnesses to history, are dying each month around the globe. In a world where antisemitism is once again rearing its ugly head, we see the deniers and revisionists are influential in many places. They planted seeds of antisemitism and Holocaust denial to denigrate the Jewish people and delegitimize the State of Israel, and have gained traction in many places.

We also know that most of the general population isn’t aware of the truly horrific acts that took place during the Holocaust. ADL statistics from a survey in May 2013 show 54% of Americans were aware of the Holocaust, but 32% thought what they heard was exaggerated or mythologized. Right now, there is no major memorial in Bergen County. Creating one would serve as a reminder of what happened, and become a catalyst for discussions about racism, intolerance, and human rights. The memorial would also serve as a tribute to family members of people who live in Bergen County.

Teaneck has the largest Jewish population in the county, with hundreds of direct descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors. It is a diverse city that led the nation in school desegregation. It also has one of the first school systems in the United States to teach the Holocaust. Building this memorial would serve to enhance Teaneck’s stature as a town of understanding, tolerance and respect, while paying tribute to the family members of many Teaneck and county residents who were victims and survivors. It will remind everyone of the imperative: “Never Again!”

We hope to create a memorial that will be visible from the street and invoke curiosity from young and old, to inspire them to visit and learn, perhaps even to open a dialogue about the events and meaning of the Holocaust and other genocides, past and present. We would work with schools, churches, synagogues, and organizations that want to explore and discuss the Holocaust. We envision having a section of permanent benches arranged in a way that allows for teaching in groups, as well as for those who want to sit quietly and reflect.

We hope to incorporate weatherproof educational panels that offer a historical perspective and timeline, with maps and other key information about the horrors that took place. One section of the memorial will be available for dedication plaques to the deceased, so that the memorial may act as a substitute matzevah for those who had no appropriate burial.

We hope to present a mock-up of our memorial to the council meeting. Once a location is approved, we will develop more definite plans to make this a special place that will serve all members of the Bergen County community.

There is very little resistance to building a Holocaust memorial per se. The opposition comes from people who oppose the memorial being placed on public land, and by those who believe that parkland should only be used as natural parkland. In most places, however, memorials ARE built on public land. Such memorials are open to the entire community and convey the message that the-powers-that-be share in paying tribute to those who have fallen, and have a stake in educating the public about past historical events. Brett Park has been proposed as a Revolutionary War historical site because Washington’s troops retreated through it to cross the Hackensack River. But right now the parcel is dormant and being used as an impromptu soccer field. It also has a blacktop parking lot right next to it.

Others have suggested we add the memorial to the Town Green, near the library and municipal building, where it will be among other memorials—one for 9/11, one for terror victim Sarah Duker, and one for World War II. We do not believe the municipal green is an appropriate venue for a contemplative memorial. There is no access during the week, and parking is severely limited.

It has been two years since the group began its quest for a memorial. The only way we can make this happen is if we have community support for this project. We believe the project is one of the most effective ways to teach future generations about the lessons of the Holocaust. Without your support, the project will not move forward. We ask you all to join us at the Town Council meeting on Feb. 24, where we will present our latest plan for the memorial. We will also be asking people to sign petitions for it. Please feel free to address any questions to myself or my co-chair, Bruce Prince, and log on to www.teaneckyomhashoa-org for further information.

By Steve Fox