Russian activist killed by grenade had S.F. ties

Anatoliy Finkelshtein, who protected the synagogue where he lived in Borovichi, Russia, was killed when trying to remove the grenade so it would not harm passers-by. It exploded in his arms, and he died en route to the hospital.

Eduard Alekseev, the president of the Borovichi Jewish Community, wrote in a letter that "Tolya — as he was called — was one of the most active members of the Borovichi Jewish Community," which is a sister community of Temple Beth Torah in Fremont. Largely because of Finkelshtein's doing, the Jews were granted a place to create a synagogue and a home for the Jews of Borovichi.

"After a site was selected, Tolya took up the burden of repairing the demolished existing building. He involved himself in every aspect of the project, from the design, to selecting the materials, to managing the work crews. The community and the synagogue became a part of his life."

When there were attacks on the synagogue, Finkelshtein took it upon himself to provide security around the clock. "He really treated the synagogue like a child," said Pnina Levermore, executive director of the Bay Area Council, who knew Finkelshtein for about four years. "Whenever we'd come to visit, he'd show off the latest additions."

Finkelshtein was born in 1957, in Borovichi.

Levermore noted that by being so outspoken in his approach to the police, in demanding they respond to anti-Semitic attacks, Finkelshtein drew attention to himself.

"Last year on erev Yom Kippur, his car was torched," she said. "No one was ever found, and there was no way to prove who did it, but he wouldn't be frightened."

Levermore described Finkelshtein as "big and burly, but when you got to know him, you saw the teddy bear behind the muscles."

As a young man, he developed a passion for history, and collected stamps, coins and other ancient artifacts. His collection later included medals of czarist Russia and antique weapons. In high school, he began participating in historical expeditions and archeological digs.

In 2001, Finkelshtein joined a group that searches for the remains of soldiers who fell in battle in the Novgorod region during World War II, to see that they got a proper burial. Through his work with this group, he found and removed hundreds of bodies from the forests and bogs. His experiences inspired him to found a museum in Borovichi.

While researching material for the museum, Finkelshtein found records of the mass execution of the Jewish population in the Novgorod region, and was determined to find the locations where the executions were carried out. To finance this project, Finkelshtein and his group decided to collect and recycle old metal casings from bullets and bombs, which is what he was doing when he found the grenade.

Finkelshtein is survived by his wife, Marina; his daughter, Jenya, 17; and son, Volodya, 13.

"His wife lost her job when the factory where she worked was closed," said Alekseev. "The family is in a very difficult financial situation."

Help for the Finkelshtein family may be sent in care of BACJRR, 459 Fulton St., Suite 305, S.F., CA 94102.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."