At long last, Ukrainian Jews unveil Shoah memorial

Sunday, May 6 will be a monumental day for Rabbi Shimon Margolin.

Not only will he unveil a Shoah monument he has worked to erect since 1998, he feels he’ll be wiping his own slate clean.

Nearly four years ago, Margolin and San Francisco allergist Dr. Vadim Kvitash were sued by a group calling itself the Odessa Compatriot Association, which accused the rabbi and doctor of diverting the funds intended for the memorial. But in 2004, the association abandoned the case. Court records indicate that on two separate occasions the association’s lawyer failed to show up for orders to show cause for his clients’ case and was fined $700.

Margolin describes the official dedication of the Odessa Holocaust Memorial in Colma’s Eternal Home Jewish Cemetery as “a complete absolution. I was telling everyone all along that [no money] was misused.”

Added Kvitash, “This is the fulfillment of a personal, very deep-rooted dream. I feel I have a place to go and pray and bring my children and five grandchildren.”

The rabbi said the six-foot tall monument’s price tag was in the $20,000 range, with about $1,000 still outstanding. At the time of the suit, slightly more than $18,000 had been raised.

The memorial, which sits near a large monument built by Jews of Polish descent, commemorates all the Jews murdered in the Holocaust and specifically lists massacres of Jews in the southern Ukraine. Within the Russian Jewish community, according to Margolin, the pair of memorials have become known as “the Polish monument” and “the Odessa monument.”

The monument will serve the community in a variety of ways. “Our kids grow up here. The majority of them don’t go to day schools and are not affiliated with the Jewish community. I felt that if we created the monument, one of the things young people still do with their parents and grandparents is visit the Jewish cemeteries and visit the loved ones buried there,” said the rabbi, who added that without Sinai Memorial Chapel’s assistance, the monument would not exist.

“We are making sure that Americanized Russian Jews who grow up here will know what happened in their native countries to their grandparents and great-grandparents.”

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.