Stepping out
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Stepping out

Holocaust Center perspective (Rendering provided by Springboard Design)
Holocaust Center perspective (Rendering provided by Springboard Design)

Paul Rosenblatt understands that people approach the subject of the Holocaust in a myriad of ways, a lesson he learned from his father, Arthur Rosenblatt, who was the founding director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Now, Rosenblatt, an architect at Pittsburgh-based Springboard Design, will be employing some of the strategies he learned from his father in his design of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s new space at 826-832 Hazelwood Ave. in the East End.

Since 2011, Pittsburgh’s Holocaust Center has been housed in office space provided by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh on McKee Place in Oakland. Prior to that, the center was located within the Jewish Community Center offices in Squirrel Hill. The move to the new facility in the East End will mark the first time in the institution’s 33-year history that it has its own dedicated space, independent of another institution, and Rosenblatt’s vision is to have that space facilitate a variety of means for guests to find their own ways of connecting to and understanding the Holocaust, he said.

“Everybody in our community has some kind of personal connection to the events of the Holocaust,” Rosenblatt

explained. “That’s the reality. Whether we grew up with these stories as children or learned about them more intimately as adults. Whether the personal connection comes from one’s own family or from the relatives of relatives or the relatives of friends.”

When his father was appointed as the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Rosenblatt learned “how complex these issues really are.”

“Partially because these issues are so emotionally fraught, there are so many different layers and perspectives one can take in approaching this subject matter,” he said. “And it’s different for different age groups, and it’s different for different people.”

Rosenblatt’s aim, he said, is to create the new space in a manner which will provide avenues for various approaches to connection.

“I’m trying to be responsive to the idea that people learn and understand things in different ways, and [I’m trying to] give people many different ways into the subject,” he said.

Basically, three types of experiences will be offered in the new space, he detailed: an exhibition space, which will present a series of changing exhibits; a research center, which will provide computer-based experiences for visitors, encouraging them to conduct research on relatives and friends who were victims of the Holocaust; and an education space, which will have several permanent exhibits and displays of artifacts for viewing and handling and which will accommodate lectures and presentations to students and other groups.

A reflection space will also be part of the center, providing a quiet area for visitors to process what they have seen and learned.

“These are all spaces the Holocaust Center has not had until now,” Rosenblatt noted.

The Center will enter into a five-year lease — with an option to renew — for the new space, which is located next to the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, according to Joy Braunstein, director of the Holocaust Center.

The location was chosen, she said, pursuant to the results of a survey that showed that community members wanted the center to be closer to Squirrel Hill.

“This particular space fit most of our criteria and objectives,” said Lori Gutman, co-chair along with Barbara Shapira of the Holocaust Center’s advisory board. “We spent a lot of time looking at spaces. We wanted to make sure it was publicly accessible and wanted it to be a part of Jewish Pittsburgh. That was important.”

The center actually will occupy two separate spaces within the same shopping center, Braunstein said. The education, exhibition and resource facilities will be housed in 2,300 square feet of space upstairs, which is publicly and handicap accessible.

“That’s where the magic of Paul [Rosenblatt] and Springboard’s brilliant design … takes place,” she said.

Office and administrative space will be located in a separate space downstairs.

While the center will be displaying some exhibits and artifacts at its new location, it will continue to partner with other institutions for larger, traveling shows, according to Braunstein.

A small gift shop, featuring the self-published memoirs of area survivors, will also be housed in the new space.

Center staff will continue to give tours of the Gary and Nancy Tuckfelt Keeping Tabs Holocaust Sculpture, located at the nearby Community Day School.

Braunstein stressed that the new facility is being designed as “an interim space and also as a way to satisfy long-term needs.”

“We understand this is not the biggest dream and vision we could come to bear,” she said. “But it meets the community’s needs in an expedient and exciting way. We know we’re stepping out with something really amazing but without having to run a capital campaign. We are not looking at it as a permanent space. We are hoping to find something more permanent in the future.”

The total budget for the project, she said, is under $100,000, and has been covered by the center’s “regular fundraising.”

While the Holocaust Center is an independent nonprofit, it is a fiduciary agency of the Federation.

“We have an enormous amount of gratitude to Federation for its support,” she said.

The relocation will begin in January, and a grand opening to the public is expected in late spring.

Rosenblatt and leaders from the Holocaust Center will be available to discuss the project and share the vision for the Center.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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