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Jewish point of view
Jun 1, 2001

Dear Rabbi:

Why do you think AIDS is such a nonissue in the Jewish community? I mean how many synagogues across the country actually mention world AIDS day? How many mention the thousands of Jews who have died of AIDS in their memorial services?

Response from Rabbi Sacks-Rosen

Yours is a very good question, and one which I do not have a complete answer. I do not know how many synagogues mention World AIDS day or how many have died of AIDS in their memorial services.

I know that in the synagogues I have served we did have special prayers and liturgy to commemorate World AIDS Day. I know of many who do. I cannot, however, give you an exact figure. That you may have been in a synagogue which did not do so pains me.

I do know that beyond commemoration of World AIDS Day, many synagogues have supported different kinds of AIDS programs or important fundraising and awareness endeavors, such as AIDS Walks and meals programs for homebound persons with AIDS/HIV. Indeed, last night one member of my synagogue's high school program invited me on behalf of our youth group to participate in any upcoming AIDS Walk.

I also helped initiate a World AIDS Day commemoration for The Jewish Museum in New York, and I participated in it for several years. I do not know if the museum still commemorates World AIDS Day or not.

Many Jews participate in World AIDS Day commemorations through their interfaith circles, of which their synagogues may be a part. I helped create such an observance for one statewide AIDS Interfaith Network that was done simultaneously in over twenty locations throughout the state. I no longer live in that part of the country. I hope the observance continues.

Finally, I proposed a number of years ago an addition to the Jewish liturgical calendar: Lev B'omer, the 32nd day of the counting of the omer, for AIDS/HIV awareness and concern within the Jewish community. The omer is the 49-day period that for Jews links the freedom that the Exodus story relates (celebrated on Passover) to the opportunity as a community to enter into a covenantal relationship with God which the narrative of the giving of the Ten Commandments relates (and which is celebrated on the recently finished Shavuot holy day). Lev B'omer was chosen for many reasons, including that the 33rd day was a day in which an illness that affected the community in Roman times ended. The placement before this date indicated that we needed to express concern and solidarity until AIDS/HIV is likewise no more. It was also chosen because "Lev" the numeric representation of the numeral 32 means "heart," indicating that we are to engage this with all of our hearts. I know this year I received information about different Lev B'omer observances in various locations throughout the world.

Surely there is silence is some quarters of the Jewish community. We need to do more to reach out to them. Surely as well there are many Jews and many Jewish communities that are working hard to live as caring, faithful representatives of a Torah, all of whose paths, we know, lead to shalom. May it continue to be so.



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