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AC Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial's time has come

  • Atlantic City

Courtesy/Atlantic City Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial will be located in front of Stockton University's Boardwalk campus.


ATLANTIC CITY A decade-long effort to get a Holocaust memorial built on the World Famous Atlantic City Boardwalk is closer to reality. Rabbi Gordon Geller, the religious leader of the reform movement at Shirat Hayam Synagogue in neighboring Ventnor, said the memorial is now ready to be built.

We are very eager to get it up at this time in our nation's history with all the intolerance and divisiveness of today, Rabbi Geller said. It's an idea whose time has come.

Rabbi Geller has been working to get the memorial built for more than 10 years and is close to having all the pieces of the puzzle, including funding, in place to make it happen.

The funding will be in place fairly soon and it will take about six months to get it up, he said.

The most recent impetus for building the memorial came in a telephone call from Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman as the university's Atlantic City campus was being built, Rabbi Geller said.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial, Inc. Committee has a signed Memorandum of Understanding with Stockton, where Rabbi Geller has taught history for more than 30 years, supporting the concept. The university will develop an educational component that will be delivered through the university's Sam and Sara Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, he said.

A previous design gleaned from a yearlong international competition that garnered 750 designs from artists in 55 countries was abandoned because it was not suitable for the current location on the Boardwalk at Roosevelt Place. That winning design, Fractured Landscapes, which was selected by the architect who built the Freedom Towers in New York City, would have needed many acres to build, Rabbi Geller said.

Rabbi Gordon Geller, religious leader of Shirat Hayam Reform Congregation in Ventnor.

It just wasn't suitable for this site, he said.

Stockton Atlantic City Chief Operating Officer Brian Jackson said although the university will not be providing any financing to erect the monument, Stockton professors, staff and students collaborated with the architect to come up with the design. The university will develop an educational program, which could include visits from New Jersey students.

The New Jersey Holocaust Commission has a mandate to teach the Holocaust in schools, and this could be a way to bring the genocidal tsunami to life, Rabbi Geller said.

Atlantic City Council, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Atlantic City Arts Commission and religious and community leaders have offered resolutions in support of the project, which will be part of the city's Gateway Project and located in the Tourism District.

It will be a valuable asset as a destination site for visitors and will raise the public's consciousness about the atrocities of the Holocaust, Rabbi Geller said. We have a petition of support signed by a diverse group of religious leaders of the different faiths, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant, on Absecon Island.

The petition states: In a city that represents diverse racial and ethnic populations, the placement of an educational and inspirational Holocaust Memorial Monument would be a symbol of universal tolerance and a positive statement for harmony and understanding.

According to NJ Sen. Chris Brown, the cost of erecting the memorial nears $1 million.

"The committee is looking for support from the CRDA. To help them, I facilitated a meeting with the committee and the CRDA for this week," he said.

Rabbi Geller called architect Daniel Scott Mascione's final design, brilliant and very moving.

It will be 10 feet high and has a metallic roofing that represents a wave, which is appropriate being so close to the ocean, and large number of rocks will be encased in a steel cage beneath, Rabbi Geller said. The wave really represents the tsunami that engulfed European Jewry.

Mascione said the rocks were inspired by the Jewish tradition of placing rocks on gravesites.

There can be many interpretations, Mascione said. We wanted to come up with a design that would be meaningful for everyone.

A time capsule will be installed in the concrete base, which will bear the inscription of a famous quote by philosopher George Santayana, which in its original form stated, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

We can teach our children today, but in future generations, it will be important to keep the message alive, Mascione said.

The monument will be located in the highly-traveled Boardwalk right-of-way and will have benches were visitors can sit and reflect on what they are viewing, Rabbi Geller said.

After consideration by the Planning and Development Subcommittee, Atlantic City Council passed a resolution on Jan. 17 approving the revocable license needed to construct and maintain the memorial at the Roosevelt Plaza pavilion for $1.

In a letter to Rabbi Geller, Donna Marie Shea, chairwoman of the Atlantic City Arts Commission, said the memorial powerfully captures and conveys emotion and the message about Genocide and the Holocaust and that the monument provides synergy with the surrounding environment.

It will be viewed by millions of people of all ages and backgrounds that stroll the world famous walking path of the Atlantic City Boardwalk each year, she wrote.

She said the memorial, just steps from the Stockton campus, will serve as a valuable tool for educators, who teach the Holocaust as part of the state's Common Core Curriculum.

Rabbi Geller said the monument would not only remember those who perished during the Holocaust and carry on the survivors' message, Never again, but it will also comfort all those who continue to suffer bigotry in our country."

The memorial's mission statement affirms a commitment "to combat human intolerance, witness history, and reaffirm the human rights for all people.'

Rabbi Geller said a gala event will be held at Resorts Hotel Casino in June to raise the additional funds needed to build and maintain the monument.

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