Plaintiffs drop suit charging S.F. rabbi with diverting Shoah funds

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A lawsuit accusing Rabbi Shimon Margolin of diverting funds intended for a Holocaust memorial has been abandoned by the plaintiffs.

“I’m not surprised. I said all along it was unfounded and had no basis whatsoever. It was done only to discredit me and destroy my reputation, to hurt me personally and my wife and family,” said the 31-year-old Ukrainian-born San Francisco rabbi.

“The suit is a disgrace to the Jewish community, an even bigger disgrace to the emigre community, and a direct insult to me, my family, the thousands of people who watch or listen to my radio and TV programs or read my newspaper, as well as the hundreds of people who turn to me for spiritual guidance.”

The suit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court in April 2003 by a group calling itself the Odessa Compatriots Association. It charged Margolin and San Francisco allergist Dr. Vadim Kvitash of misusing funds intended for a proposed Holocaust memorial that the two have been soliciting for since 1998.

Both the rabbi and the doctor vehemently denied the charges, claiming they could account for “every last cent” of some $18,000 collected. They accused Compatriots board member Sam Targan of filing the suit to fulfill a personal vendetta.

Targan, a retired Ukrainian civil engineer and San Franciscan at the time, denied the charges, and said that the donations had never been properly documented, so there was no telling how much money was unaccounted for.

Targan told j. late last year he was planning to move to New York City, and Compatriots attorney John Weinstein said he has not met with his client for roughly four months. J. was unable to reach Targan by phone — his San Francisco number is disconnected — and he did not return e-mails.

Weinstein said Targan opted to kill the suit against Margolin because Targan, too, suffered a heart attack and “lost his fire.” Court records show that, prior to dropping the case on Jan. 14, Weinstein twice failed to show up for orders to show cause, and was sanctioned $350 by the court each time. He characterized the missed court dates as “case management conferences,” however, and said “it just slipped my mind … it was laxity on my part.”

Weinstein said Targan opted to kill the suit against Margolin because he, too, suffered a heart attack and “lost his fire.” Court records show that, prior to dropping the case on Jan. 14, Weinstein twice failed to show up for orders to show cause, and was sanctioned $350 by the court each time. He characterized the missed court dates as “case management conferences,” however, and said “it just slipped my mind … it was laxity on my part.”

Margolin said he is keeping his options open for a countersuit, but is unsure whom, exactly, to litigate against. He described the Odessa Compatriots Association as “a mysterious group of people; nobody knows who they are or what they do.”

He characterized the lawsuit as the culmination of a smear campaign directed against him by “militant atheists” in the emigre community, disgruntled with Margolin’s success in “helping Russian Jews reclaim their heritage.”

Weinstein laughed, noting, “It’s either that or cowboys from outer space.”

Margolin said he still plans to erect the memorial to Odessan victims of the Holocaust, but he is unsure where or when, and is also uncertain if bad publicity surrounding the lawsuit will kill the project. If so, he promised to return all the individual contributions.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.