A genizah, or hiding place, is a Jewish storage area for sacred books and papers that are no longer usable. It was with that in mind that architect Susie Coliver helped create a new Holocaust memorial at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.
The Marin County Jewish Community Memorial was dedicated in conjunction with a Yom HaShoah service April 27 at Kol Shofar. Approximately 350 people, including representatives from many Bay Area synagogues and Jewish organizations, attended.
Inside the genizah is a Torah rescued from Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust that Kol Shofar has been using since 1971. When it was deemed no longer usable, Sandy Stadtler, the chair of Kol Shofar’s New Torah Fund, came up with the idea to use the Torah as a memorial to the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
In time, the memorial also will include a names scroll that currently is on display at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael. The scroll includes the names of relatives of Marin Jewish residents who perished in the Holocaust. Additionally, the plan calls for a “digital book of names” to be projected on the inside back wall of the memorial.
Coliver, of S.F.-based Herman Coliver Locus Architecture, which designed Kol Shofar’s renovation that was completed in 2010, headed up designing the memorial.
“We conceived it as a window into a genizah: a view into a place which is usually unseen, a place of some mystery, a repository of memory,” Coliver wrote in an email. “Some may worry that the Torah will degrade as it’s exposed to the sun under glass, and yet, by design, that decay is expected and celebrated. In fact, it’s precisely the point.”
The 1,500-pound memorial is made of a steel that is “intended to rust naturally over time. It will change color as the elements act upon it, in concert with the decay which will eventually overtake the buried Torah,” Coliver continued. “We, the remnants of the families that perished in the Shoah, will have a chance to watch this slow and natural decomposition as a beautiful, fascinating conclusion of its useful life.”
The bottom of the burial box is covered in smooth river rock, and a shelf at the front allows visitors to leave pebbles. Over the next few months, a sitting area and explanatory plaques will be added. Eventually, a recording of a hazzan chanting will be part of the memorial; the hazzan will be from the buried Torah’s shul of origin, organizers said.
Kol Shofar’s Rabbi Chai Levy laid the Torah to rest, chanting “El Malei Rachamim” (the prayer for the soul of the departed) as she did so. — j. staff