Mayor Ed Lee looking out over San Francisco's sister city of Haifa, Israel, in April 2016 (Photo/Dan Pine)
Mayor Ed Lee looking out over San Francisco's sister city of Haifa, Israel, in April 2016 (Photo/Dan Pine)

Bay Area Jews mourn Mayor Ed Lee

Spiritual and community leaders mourned the sudden death today of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, with one remembering him as “a great friend of the Jewish community and of all the people of San Francisco.”

Lee died early this morning after collapsing while shopping last night at a Safeway grocery store near his home. The city’s first Chinese American mayor was 65.

Lee made a one-week trip to Israel in 2016, including a visit to Haifa, one of San Francisco’s international sister cities. He had extensive dealings with the Jewish community back home, and San Francisco marked its first celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month during Lee’s tenure, which started in 2011.

Mayor Ed Lee with former Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Photo/Francis Tsang)
Mayor Ed Lee with former Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Photo/Francis Tsang)

“Mayor Lee understood just how sacred is San Francisco’s diversity and represented all of its citizens well,” said Abby Porth, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council. “He was a friend to our Jewish community and shared our values and concerns.

“We are grateful for his partnership on the first-ever celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month in City Hall, an inaugural event that would not have been possible without his enthusiastic support,” Porth added.

S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation CEO Danny Grossman released a statement on behalf of his organization, which read in part: “Mayor Lee consistently demonstrated his support for the well-being of the Jewish community, attending many events throughout the years — most recently the celebration of Jewish Heritage Night at City Hall, emceeing Haifa Hoops for Kids, a basketball clinic that raised money for disadvantaged children in Northern Israel, and attending a community memorial for [former Israeli Prime Minister] Shimon Peres.”

The Israeli Consulate in San Francisco wrote on Facebook and Twitter that “Mayor Lee was an exceptional human being, an outstanding mayor and a good friend to the Israeli Consulate.”

While in Israel last year, Lee told J. he felt energized by what he saw in the Jewish state.

“This country and its people want to move forward,” Lee said. “Every time I visit these places and see how vibrant they are, I go back to San Francisco and say to myself, let’s not fool around. Let’s keep being more inclusive, let’s work on housing, work on the homeless more intensely. Everyone else is creating answers to their problems. That’s what I look out for, and certainly this trip is energizing me even more.”

Co-organizing that trip was S.F. political consultant Sam Lauter, who said of the late mayor, “Being part of the team organizing Mayor Lee’s sister city trip to Israel was an honor and very fun. After all, we were bringing the mayor to Israel, only the second time a San Francisco mayor had visited. What I didn’t expect was how incredible his reaction would be discovering the many facets that make Israel what it is. His curiosity, his intellect, his enthusiasm and, above all else, his kindness were in evidence every day. Mayor Lee was truly a friend of our community, but more important, he was truly a mensch.”

Rabbi Beth Singer of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El said she and her husband, fellow Emanu-El Rabbi Jonathan Singer, shared breakfast with the mayor shortly after they arrived from Seattle in 2013.

“Two summers ago, a group of Jewish teens asked me to arrange a meeting with the mayor to discuss their concerns about gun violence,” Beth Singer told J. “We met in his office. He listened intently and shared a wide variety of his own initiatives that reduced gun violence.

“I told him that he should talk more about his successes. He responded that he would rather be effective than get more credit,” Singer said. “He was a great friend of the Jewish community and of all the people of San Francisco.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.