"Religion is the opium for the masses," says Rabbi Shimon Margolin, quoting Karl Marx.
...Margolin is the executive director of the Jewish Heritage Center for Emigres, which serves the Russian Jewish community.
The rabbi is all too familiar with the stereotypes many Russians hold toward religion Ð which is why he
decided not to call the center a synagogue.
"We wanted to be a place where the Russian (Jewish) community could reconnect with their heritage," Margolin
said, in his
"Kabbalah is an esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew Bible," Margolin
explained.Because kabbalah has made its way to Hollywood, with devotees like Madonna, the rabbi pointed out that he
teaches authentic kabbalah and not "pop" kabbalah.
The center also caters to children's educational needs, offering classes in Jewish tradition, Hebrew and bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah preparations.A day camp, for which there is a modest fee, is run every spring, summer and winter break. (Spaces for the August session are still available.)Margolin
has recently taken a group of young adults, ages 18 to 26, on a free trip to Israel.He
plans to start a Jewish teen club for educational and social purposes.
"Our budget cannot allow us to have any paid staff," Margolin
secular upbringing in Ukraine, Margolin
was made to feel different because he
was Jewish, both by the government and by his
One day as a child, he
class in skipping school.But when he
got home his
parents told him he
could not do that because he
"What's so different about being Jewish?"he
With the fall of the Soviet empire approaching, Margolin
went to Moscow to study Judaism.After a year, in 1990, he decided to become a rabbi. He
family, which was also becoming more religious, for New Jersey and then Los Angeles, where he
rabbinical education and eventually met his
wife.The couple moved to San Francisco's Richmond District eight years ago and now have three children. Margolin
has been serving the Jewish community in the City for the past six years and has been looking for a location for his
center for the past two.The center opened in April and is already outgrowing itself.
"We need more room for our programs," he