ATLANTIC CITY — A nonprofit’s quest to build a Holocaust memorial in the city got a boost Tuesday, when the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved reserving $500,000 for the project.
The memorial would be built on the Boardwalk near Stockton University’s city campus, the culmination of 10 years of efforts by a volunteer committee, said its leader, Rabbi Gordon Geller of Shirat Hayam in Ventnor.
It was the final action in a packed agenda, in which the CRDA also gave final approval for the $38 million AtlantiCare HealthPark project at Atlantic and Ohio avenues, across from AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s City Campus.
CRDA will donate the land, worth $3 million, and provide $15 million in funding for a three-story, 65,000-square-foot medical building that will house a new perinatal and neonatal health program, an urgent care center, dialysis unit, and teaching facilities for medical students and physician residents.
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The board also approved reserving $175,000 for the renovation of a building on Indiana Avenue by the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation for a jazz school for city youth.
The Holocaust memorial is planned for Roosevelt Plaza near the Stockton dormitories.
“The object is to combat human intolerance … and reinforce the rights of all the people on this planet,” said Deputy Executive Director Marshall Spevak, filling in for Executive Director Matt Doherty, who is on vacation.
The grant requires the sponsoring group, Atlantic City Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial Inc., to raise all remaining needed funds before CRDA funds are released, said Spevak.
Geller said after the meeting that the committee of volunteers needs to raise about $500,000 more to build the memorial, and ideally it could be finished as soon as two years from now.
“I’m sure it will become a significant tourist destination,” Geller told the board.
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Its design was described by Father Jon Thomas, pastor of the Parish of St. Monica Catholic Church, as showing how totalitarian regimes will always fail. The concrete and steel parts that seem to be imprisoning stones will slowly erode and disintegrate in the salt air, but the stones will remain, said Thomas, a member of the committee.
Geller said Stockton President Harvey Kesselman re-initiated the project by supporting its location near the school’s city campus. It had stalled when committee members couldn’t agree whether to place it on the Boardwalk or at Stockton’s main campus in Galloway Township years ago.
Committee member Sam Lashman, of Margate, said the Boardwalk is the right place for it, “because this is where the people are.”
The Korean War Memorial at Park Place and the Boardwalk is the most visited in the state because of how many people walk the boards, said Geller.
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“This is a tremendously appropriate location,” said Board Vice Chairman Richard Tolson, who became visibly emotional in support of the memorial. “Stockton gives one of the preeminent (Holocaust) history courses in the country.”
Others on the board also pointed out that many Holocaust survivors moved to the city after World War II.
“Our Jewish American brothers and sisters have done a great deal for the city, and this is a way to show our appreciation,” said Mayor Frank Gilliam.
Thomas said the design of the monument is from the Brutalist style, popular with totalitarian regimes like the Nazis in the 20th century.
“To me, it’s a concrete hand grabbing onto stones, which represent the natural order of things,” said Thomas. “It’s also supposed to represent the Jewish custom of placing stones on tombs as a memorial to the dead.”
While it represents the villages and hamlets of Europe torn apart by the Holocaust, Thomas said it is also a “sign to my fellow millennials that we ought to have hope, but there are real challenges to confront.”