Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), the LGBT synagogue of Los Angeles, responded to the crisis by founding Nechama, a Jewish Response to AIDS, in 1987.
Despite the richness of Jewish sources which speak to stigma and illness, the history of Jewish community’s reaction to AIDS has been rocky.In the 1980s and early 1990s, most mainstream synagogues failed to respond to the crisis.In Jewish tradition official mourning begins with the funeral ritual–not at the time of death–because losses first need to be named out loud and witnessed before people can grieve, heal, and move forward.Likewise, we need to make time to publicly name and mourn over the losses connected to AIDS before we can heal as individuals or as a community.In the ensuing years, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was identified as the virus that leads to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) and it began to be recognized in people beyond the gay community.
In New York City ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was formed in 1987 as the most vocal group aiming to end the AIDS crisis through direct action.
The prayer book of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, reflects these themes in its prayer for healing recited publicly at all services: “May the One who blessed our ancestors…bless and heal ______ along with all the ill among us who are touched by AIDS, cancer, and all life-threatening illnesses.
Grant insight to those who bring healing; courage and faith to those who live with physical and mental illness; love and strength to us and to all who love them.” AIDS is still devastating lives across the globe and it continues to be shaped by other forms of social marginalization.
The Torah also teaches that each and every person is created in the image of God (Genesis ), and is of inherent worth and dignity.
But individuals living with HIV and AIDS may experience a loss of self worth due to the shame that can surround this disease, as well as the isolating nature of living with any illness.
Around this date it is fitting to take stock of the social and spiritual impact of HIV and AIDS on Judaism and Jewish communal life.