A Columbia teenager raised $68,000 to buy and equip the vehicle to send to Israel

Bears for an ambulance


Four years ago, Yoni Grossman-Boder began thinking about what charity project he could do to complete his bar mitzvah requirement at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia. He found the answer on television.

"Most kids collect jackets or put together food baskets, but I saw on TV, in Israel ambulances were being attacked," Grossman-Boder said. "Terrorists were shooting up the ambulances so they couldn't get to the victims, and I realized I wanted to somehow help."

The 16-year old Columbia resident has raised $68,000, enough to buy a $62,000 ambulance and its supplies for Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's equivalent to the Red Cross.

To raise money for the ambulance, Grossman-Boder created Bears for Life. At the core of his project is Raffi, a stuffed bear that wears a red sweater with a white heart and red Jewish star on it, named after Rafael, the angel of healing, according to Jewish tradition.

Grossman-Boder, along with the support of his parents Susan Grossman and David Boder, Magen David Adom and businesses in Columbia, sold more than 3,200 Raffi bears for $12.99 each.

"I saw a great gift of life in [Yoni] who wanted to do something bigger than him, bigger than his own backyard for Israel and we wanted to support that project in any way that we could," said Gary Kenzer, former executive director of MDA-USA based in Skokie, Ill. "Yoni is absolutely a role model Jewish leader for the Jewish people."

To celebrate Grossman-Boder's achievement, Kenzer will speak at Beth Shalom at today's 8 p.m. service and at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

People can see the Israel-bound ambulance at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the synagogue, at 8070 Harriet Tubman Lane, followed by a dedication ceremony at 1 p.m. The ambulance is expected to be delivered by June.

Susan Grossman, the teenager's mother and rabbi at the Beth Shalom Congregation, said she remembers feeling scared when her son approached her with his idea.

"We did something very daring," Grossman said. "He needed some start-up money, so we took some money from his bar mitzvah and used it as a down payment [for the bears]. It was quite a scary moment when we did that, but we trusted that it would all work out because it was for a good cause."

After contacting MDA and gaining its full support for Bears for Life, Grossman-Boder did a Google search and found a bear distributor in Utah who gave him an "exceptional price" for the bears and donated money to the project.

Grossman-Boder put fliers about Bears for Life in his bar mitzvah invitations. He said he got immediate donations, and within the first few months, he had raised $8,000, more than enough to repay his parents for the cost of the bears.

At Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Community High School in Baltimore County, where he is a junior, Grossman-Boder stars in plays and is on the baseball team. He also stays active in his synagogue. But with all that, he still found nearly 10 hours a week to work on Bears for Life.

"Him and I talked about it, and as long as he put in the work, I'd support him," Grossman said. "It really was his project and his vision, and he worked tremendously hard."

Bears for Life gained local and national support. While businesses, including Party!Party!Party! in Columbia and Jacob's Ladder in Pikesville, sold the bears and returned 100 percent of the profits, donations arrived from as far as away as Hawaii and California.

Renew Shoes and Decanter Wines in Columbia collected money for Bears for Life by setting up donation boxes. Parcel Plus in Burtonsville donated nearly $500 worth of boxes and packaging to send the bears, said general manager Sunil Malhotra.

"It was really a huge effort on a lot of people's parts," Grossman-Boder said.

He said he feels great, "plain and simple," that Bears for Life was a success. The secret is dedication, he said.

"Keep with it," he said. "It never hurts to try. ... And if you really put yourself toward your goal, it will happen."


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