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Holocaust Memorial education center seeks city go-ahead

Written by on October 24, 2023


Holocaust Memorial education center seeks city go-ahead

The Holocaust Memorial education center in Miami Beach is hoping to break ground by year’s end.

“We’re running into some delays in terms of permitting in the city,” said Josh Sayles, director of Jewish community relations and government affairs of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “We’re trying to work it out and hope to get it worked out as quickly as possible and we hope to break ground by the end of the year. There are sometimes some unforeseen obstacles and unfortunately, this is one of those cases.”

As Miami Today reported in December 2022, the education center was expected to be completed by summer 2024. It is now facing delays, however once the project breaks ground and if everything goes smoothly, construction is anticipated to take a year, Mr. Sayles said.

“It’s a 7,000-square-foot space, so, while it’s a meaningful and substantial construction project, as far as construction projects go, it’s not that large,” Mr. Sayles said. “A lot of construction projects have unforeseen delays, but if everything goes smoothly, we’re thinking 12 months.”

The idea of creating an educational center was first discussed several years ago, said Jessica Katz, chairwoman of Yom HaShoah Committee at the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach.

“The conversations around it [the education center] began probably about four years ago,” said Ms. Katz. “And when we first started the conversation, we had sort of a much larger project in mind, but then we thought about what we really wanted to achieve. We wanted to keep it privately funded so that it was not an encumbrance on taxpayers or the city, and we decided to consolidate and really focus on what was important knowing that we still will have our memorial next door, which is an incredible standalone experience in itself.”

When the project was initially planned, pre-Covid construction costs were looked at. Today, the cost is $15 to $20 million, Ms. Katz said.

“The project is mostly funded by some generous donors,” said Mr. Sayles. “There has been incredible support the entire way by the City of Miami beach.”

The Holocaust Memorial education center will include the Dimensions in Testimony program. This aspect of the center will allow visitors to ask survivors questions and receive pre-recorded answers.

“It is a technology such that in its finished form visitors to the education center can effectively ask them questions about their history and have a conversation with them without even physically being with them in the room,” said Ms. Katz. “I think it is a wonderful way to allow visitors to extract parts of these stories that resonate with them and also to be reminded that there’s a human face to this history.”

This innovative technology allows for survivors’ personal stories to live long past human years. This is a way in which the center will educate the community and visitors on the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust ended almost 80 years ago,” said Mr. Sayles. “So naturally, our survivors aren’t going to be around that much longer and tell us stories. There are many, many projects around the world and various Holocaust museums and memorials are keeping their stories alive. Our perspective, this [the Dimensions in Testimony] is the closest thing that we can do to allowing the public to continue to communicate directly with survivors even after they’re gone.”

The education center is to include theaters to feature the Dimensions of Testimony and flexible classroom space. Planners wanted to create a space in which school groups can gather while simultaneously making the area more versatile in order to serve different functions.

“We wanted to make sure to have a place where they [school groups] could convene to do so [contemplate],” said Ms. Katz. “Additionally, we hope to be able to use this space as a flexible multifunctional space for community gatherings to have conversations around this same subject, film screenings, etc. It’s very important to us that we are part of this sort of convention center campus. We have the convention center, the hotel’s coming, we have Pride Park in front of us and I think it’s important to us to be a part of the diverse landscape of the city of Miami Beach and of South Florida in general, and we want to be a safe space in our community for people to gather and have important conversations.”

The number of visitors to the memorial has decreased since the pandemic but is expected to rise again.

“It [the number of visitors] was around 100,000 annually and we haven’t caught up to that number yet,” said Mr. Sayles. “Our field trips are rapidly increasing again and we’re still working on getting our level of school field trips back up to where they were pre pandemic. We’re optimistic that not only are we going to get to where we were, we’re going to exceed those numbers either this year or next.”

The learning center is to rise on a parking lot across the street from the Holocaust Memorial. The parking lot provided 22 public spaces and was shared between the memorial and the botanical garden. The use of this parking lot is not foreseen to cause a tremendous impact, said Mr. Sayles.
The Holocaust led to the loss of about 6 million Jews. Survivors carry their memories, pain and experiences of one of the darkest times in history. The Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, aside from educating individuals of what was once a reality for many, continues to serve the community and its visitors.

“I think it [the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach] serves as a burial place for those who have lost family members,” said Ms. Katz. “I think it serves as a place of contemplation, I think it serves as a reminder and I think it serves as a place to open people’s eyes as to what happens when hatred goes unchecked and unacknowledged. And just a reminder of who we are as humans and how to treat one another. How things can really slip through our fingers quite easily.”

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