Sacramento honors L.A. teen for his gift to Israel

Robert Leeds, 13, never had much of a personal connection to Sacramento. He grew up and continues to live in Los Angeles. So why did the Sacramento City Council honor the teen in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony the morning of Jan. 8?Inspired by the city’s decision last summer to partner with Ashkelon, Israel as its newest sister city, Leeds decided that in lieu of gifts or money, attendees at his bar mitzvah should donate money to a fund that would go to Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency response agency. He ended up raising enough money to purchase an ambulance to donate to Ashkelon.

Dina and Fred Leeds, Robert’s parents, are board members of the Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs, which was instrumental in getting Sacramento council members to approve Ashkelon as a sister city.

Ribbon cutting ceremony includes Robert Leeds (third from right), flanked by his parents, along with Sacramento and Jewish community officials photo/george bravo

Dina Leeds wrote letters to council members supporting the resolution, and was so impressed when two of them wrote back that the donation idea began to take shape. Dina is also a board member of American Friends of Magen David Adom. Invitations to Leeds’ bar mitzvah asked attendees to “come together and do a very special act of kindness in our Holy Land. Join hands and put a lifesaving ambulance on the ground in Israel.”

The drive raised over $200,000, enough money to purchase not one but two ambulances for the MDA, one of which was dedicated specifically to Ashkelon in Robert Leeds’ honor in the Jan. 8 ceremony in Sacramento.

“At age 13, a Jewish boy becomes a man … becoming a man to me meant standing up for my brothers and sisters in Israel and helping to cushion the blows that they experience on a daily basis,” said the teen in a speech at the ceremony. “I wanted not only for the ambulance itself to save actual life, but I also wanted the very action of sending it to be the message that you do not stand alone.”

Speakers at the morning ribbon cutting were council member Steve Cohn; Arnold Gerson, CEO of the American Friends of Magen David Adom; Gideon Lustig, deputy consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest; and Barry Broad, a board member of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento region and a former chair of the Sacramento Jewish Community Relations Council.

That evening, at the regularly scheduled city council meeting, the council presented a resolution honoring Robert Leeds for his commitment to Israel and to tikkun olam.

Gail Rubin, the coordinator of the Sacramento/Davis chapter of StandWithUs, who last summer gave Sacramento council members a petition with 3,500 signatures supporting the Ashkelon sister city resolution, had this to say about Leeds: “This ambulance dedication is a ‘thank you’ to the city of Sacramento for upholding its principles of sister city partnerships, despite the efforts of anti-Israel groups who opposed the resolution last August.”

Cohn, one of the city council’s main proponents of the Ashkelon-Sacramento sister city relationship, said in an email the following day: “I’ve been on the council for 18 years, but this was one of the most positive inspiring moments in my memory.”