Santa Rosa Memorial Park’s Holocaust Memorial Fountain was rededicated Sunday afternoon, following a community fundraising campaign.

The rededication ceremony was small, with no more than 20 people, primarily religious leaders of various faiths, in attendance. While some of those in attendance mentioned fountain vandalism in a negative light, Sebastopol resident Dennis Judd said that he doesn’t want to focus on the negative side of what was done. Rather, he wants to emphasize the community support that the Judd family received in recent weeks, as well as use this as an opportunity to spread the message of acceptance that his late mother Lillian Judd, a Holocaust survivor, dedicated many years spreading. The memorial fountain and nearby plaques are dedicated to both the Judd family and Holocaust survivors.

The fountain, which was vandalized by an unknown party in mid-June, sits in the older portion of the cemetery’s Jewish section (the section was expanded to the back of the cemetery a few years ago) and is used in part for ritual hand washing. In the weeks since the fountain was toppled, a gofundme campaign raised over $13,000 to help make repairs. Funds raised beyond the cost of repairing the fountain will go toward helping educate people about the Holocaust. 

The repairs to the fountain were done in bright blue, so it would stand out that the fountain had to be repaired. Dennis said that going forward, they also might install a plaque showing what happened when it was damaged. 

Lillian was taken during the war with her family to the Auschwitz concentration camp and held by German Nazi soldiers until her escape. After arriving in the United States and California, Lillian went to schools, colleges and other public events to share her life story, one that can be found in her book, “From Nightmare to Freedom - Healing After the Holocaust.”

Lillian died in June 2016, and Dennis had the fountain put up and dedicated in 2017, and again this week, on July 12.

Dennis said that during her life, Lillian advocated for people to address the anger they were holding before it turned to hate and violence.

“(The fundraising campaign and rededication is) also to try to help educate the people about what the Holocaust was … and about following through with the message my mother shared,” he said, adding that, especially in current times, it’s important to learn forgiveness and to not stay quiet when witnessing injustice.

Dennis said that the community response to the fundraising has been a “great, beautiful thing that’s happening.”

“As much as I want to have the public there, with the coronavirus situation, I’m concerned about that,” Dennis said in an interview before the rededication ceremony. 

While the rededication wasn’t completely open to the public, Dennis invited religious leaders of different faiths to speak. Those in attendance included Congregation Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi George Gittleman, Congregation Beth Ami’s Rabbi Mordecai Miller, Presbyterian Church of the Roses’ Rev. Cindy Alloway, Community Baptist Church’s Rev. H. Lee Turner, Interfaith Council of Sonoma County Chair Daniel Hoffman, Church of the Incarnation’s Rev. Stephen Shaver and Pat Hansen from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

“The sight of the smashed fountain broke my heart. Whether it was a random act of violence or a hate crime, it was a violation of our sacred space and Lillian’s legacy. I came the day it happened and when I saw it, tears welled up and I felt bereft and speechless,” Gittleman said. “Lillian was a friend, mentor and an inspiration to me and many others.”

Gittleman recounted that Lillian used to invite him over to her house every few months for breakfast, a tradition that lasted 20 years. 

“And then she would tell her story. I loved Lillian and I regularly visit her grave when I’m at the cemetery. I also regularly use this fountain because it’s part of Jewish tradition to wash ritually before you leave. When I got here and saw it smashed, I felt broken,” he said.

Gittleman said that seeing the toppled fountain, mixed with the stress of the virus and the continuing racial injustices compounded — and then he spoke with Dennis.

“He wanted to use the fountain as an opportunity to further Lillian’s legacy of transforming anger and hatred to love. Lillian shared her transformative message with so many people over the years … the essence of her story was that anger and hate will kill you, but love will save you and the world around you,” Gittleman said. “We need that message more than ever now.”

Turner and Alloway both mentioned that, during their time visiting the cemetery, they hadn’t noticed the Judd’s memorial fountain or plaques. However, they said that now they’ll look forward to visiting them on their way in or out of the cemetery. All of the speakers echoed Dennis’ goal of promoting community, unity and education.

The rededication was filmed and will be disseminated at a later date.

When asked if he’s received calls from Jewish community members about the fountain and its significance, Dennis said that he’s been contacted by people locally and farther away who heard about the fountain being toppled over. He recalled one conversation he had about a woman who was concerned that the desecration of the fountain meant that antisemitism was on the rise locally.

“One of the calls I got was from another person who had gotten a call from an elder Jewish lady who was scared now,” he said, noting that he told her that the focus shouldn’t be on whether or not the vandalism was hate crime-related. “What she has to focus on is that the community has really come together — Jews, Christians, Muslims … they’re all really good people and they all came together.”

Judd said that, in addition to donating extra funds to Sonoma State University’s Alliance for the Study of Holocaust and the Genocide program, he wants to work toward creating a program that would promote the study of the Holocaust and give some sort of award to someone who studies the program and creates a piece of art (video, music or otherwise) that demonstrates what they learned about the Holocaust and Lillian’s experiences. 

“It could be for anybody — any race, color or religion,” he said. “Everyone can learn from the Holocaust.” 

He said that this possible program, like Sunday’s rededication, would help both continue Lillian’s legacy and help pull everyone together as a community. 

(1) comment

Denile Kosten

I just finished reading, "From Nightmare to Freedom, Healing After the Holocaust" by Lillian and Dennis Judd and am thankful that this very interesting and eye-opening book was available in July 2020 from the Sonoma County Library. What an amazing "education" I received about what the Jewish people were subjected to during World War II. I'm thankful that Lillian, her sister and her husband were among the survivors of those horrible concentration camps, and I pray that more people will learn about those details so that history doesn't repeat itself! Denile Kosten

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