The 1991 United Synagogue resolution on AIDS described the epidemic spread of that disease as "one of the most devastating public health crises faced in modern times... which has the possibility of destroying civilization as we know it." Indeed, AIDS has taken hundreds of thousands of lives already, and infection rates are still on the rise. In the United States alone, there is at least one HIV-related death every six minutes, and the number of people who have died is triple the total number of American casualties from the Vietnam War.
Synagogues can play a vital role in addressing the AIDS crisis by undertaking education and prevention programs, providing welcome and support for people living with HIV/AIDS and their friends and families, and by working with AIDS service and advocacy organizations. The enclosed material is intended to serve as an introduction to Jewish involvement in AIDS work. It includes Jewish source material, programming ideas, and a list of resources.
You may be wondering why we have chosen to focus on HIV/AIDS when so many diseases affect our community. In fact, most of the material in this packet can be applied to addressing other illnesses. But we believe that AIDS demands special attention for a number of reasons. First, unlike cancer or heart disease, we know what causes AIDS and how to prevent it in nearly every case. Thus, the task of saving lives is directly dependent upon our ability to educate effectively about HIV/AIDS and to help promote prevention. By becoming a strong link in the chain of AIDS education and prevention efforts, synagogues can help to avert the tragedy of AIDS altogether.
Second, people living with AIDS and their families have been painfully stigmatized by society. Often, they require a great deal of comfort and support that the synagogue community can provide. Since much of the stigmatization of people infected with HIV has come from religious quarters, synagogue involvement in AIDS activities can send the message that people living with HIV/AIDS have not been abandoned by the Jewish community. On the contrary, they will discover that the Jewish community is there for them when they need it most.
Finally, confronting HIV/AIDS can be difficult, frightening, and spiritually exhausting. This applies not only to those who are ill, but to those involved in caring for and supporting them within the community as well. By dealing with HIV/AIDS within the synagogue context, congregants can be assured of receiving the hizuk -- spiritual and emotional strength -- necessary for the task at hand.
The Commission of Social Action and Public Policy of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is proud to present this publication, its fourth in a series of resolution implementation packets. We pray that its fruits will bring comfort and healing to those who are sick.
This material was prepared by David Rosen, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and edited by Sarrae G. Crane.