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Brookdale genocide center offers peek at new home
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Brookdale genocide center offers peek at new home

Manny Lindenbaum of Jackson didn’t win the inaugural 5K Challenge Race held Aug. 26 at Brookdale Community College. In fact, he was among the last to finish.

But he was arguably one of the happiest — and certainly one of the most significant — among the 160 contestants.

Lindenbaum, 80, is a survivor of the Holocaust, and the race was the first of what is planned as an annual run/walk to benefit the college’s Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (Chhange).

In addition to the racers, some 40 volunteers and other guests brought the number of supporters in attendance to over 200.

The center, which was founded 34 years ago, is now in a new home on the Lincroft campus adjacent to the college’s Bankier Library. The official grand opening is scheduled for Nov. 18, but about 100 people were invited inside for a walk-through on the day of the event, following a ceremony held after the race.

More than twice the size of its previous on-campus quarters, the new 3,800-square-foot facility is large enough for Chhange to mount its extensive archive as a permanent exhibit called “The Journey to Life.” It will also house administrative offices, a research center, a library, and a “smart classroom” with a video conferencing center.

Suzanne Scott of Red Bank, a professional archivist and historian, and Spondon Dey of Long Branch, a technology and multi-media expert who works with AT&T, were instrumental in creating the new facility. Dey helped integrate digital video footage into interactive presentations and educational activities. “It’s exciting for me to have the opportunity to apply my business knowledge to such an important humanitarian effort,” Dey said.

Brookdale Community College’s new president, Maureen Murphy, interim president William Toms, vice president Linda Milstein, and Al Zager, Chhange’s recently retired board president for 20 years, were among those singled out for praise by Chhange executive director Dale Daniels.

Daniels said that preserving the survivors’ history and developing learning tools for community members are the fundamental principles of Chhange. Contributors to the archive provide “testimony to the history of Jewish life before the war,” she said. “They came to New Jersey to start new lives with less than nothing. The artifacts, documents, and memories shared through the center create a very powerful lesson for schoolchildren, scholars, historians, and concerned citizens.”

‘Sense of purpose’

Lindenbaum and Claire Boren, also a survivor, were featured speakers at the brief ceremony held after the race.

“This center has always been very special to me because of the people who are involved,” said Lindenbaum. “I am always amazed by the number and enthusiasm of volunteers. When I speak to youngsters, my main concern is not merely to honor my family and friends who were victimized, but to influence attitudes and behavior today.

“I used to believe that the atrocities and murders perpetrated in Germany couldn’t happen anywhere else.” Lindenbaum said. “I no longer believe that. I think it could happen anywhere — even in the United States if a deep enough depression were to lead to chaos in the social order.

“That’s what makes the center so important — to remind people of what they must strive to avoid.”

Boren, whose 99-year-old mother is also a survivor, said, “The center does a great job of reaching out to the whole state, bringing in people, especially schoolchildren, and helping them learn the lessons of the Holocaust.

“The center has always been like a second home to me,” said the Rumson resident. “I had been reluctant to speak, or even think, about the horrors of my past. They helped open me up, and now I have a real sense of purpose when I get up in front of a classroom filled with students. Their reactions, their expressions of dismay, and their determination to never let something like this happen again are a great reward for my effort.”

Unlike Lindenbaum, Boren did not participate in the Challenge. “I thought I would have to run, so I didn’t sign up. Now that I know I can walk, I intend to be in next year’s race,” she said.

Approximately 160 runners and walkers did participate. Proceeds from the inaugural event, said Daniels, “will enable Chhange to provide the proactive tools to combat hate, bullying, and all forms of prejudice. Each year Chhange educates, inspires, and empowers over 15,000 students, teachers, and community members statewide.”

Daniels said Chhange is in the midst of a campaign to raise dollars for the new facility. “We are very fortunate to have raised about $1 million — almost two-thirds of the funding needed, thanks to the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations from within the community and beyond.”

Turning to the 5K Challenge, race committee member and Chhange board member Mimi Werbler reported, “It was a great success on so many levels — financial, in terms of exposure, and of course paying respect to the survivors with the dedication ceremony.”

Trophies were awarded to the top three male and female runners, and medals went to the top three male and female runners in each age group. Fifteen-year-old Billy Foster of South River was the overall winner, covering the course in less than 18 minutes. Among the women, Victoria Pontecorvo of Staten Island finished first with a time of precisely 19 minutes.

Other men taking home major hardware were Jack Goh of Ocean, and Perth Amboy’s Ernesto Trejo. In addition to Pontecorvo, women earning trophies were Bronawyn O’Leary of Cliffwood Beach and Mary Sutton of Princeton.

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