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December 05, 2003 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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JEWELRY

12/ 5
2003

16

New York
ewish groups from across the
denominational spectrum are
calling on the Jewish commu-
nity to help fight AIDS in
Africa and other places hit hard by
the pandemic.
An open letter to the Jewish com-
munity issued by the Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism, together
with Reform, Conservative and
Reconstructionist Jewish leaders,
called on "synagogues and rabbis to
renew and affirm our commitment to
ending the AIDS crisis in Africa and
elsewhere around the world.
"For the sake of our shared humani-
ty, we cannot afford to fail," the letter
said. The letter was issued Dec. 1, the
16th annual World AIDS Day.
Jewish leaders affirmed their com-
mitment to fighting the deadly dis-
ease. Worldwide, 40 million are
infected with AIDS or HIV, the virus
that causes AIDS.
"In the case of AIDS, we think that
these are preventable deaths. There
are few mandates in Judaism as clear
as pikuach nefesh, to not stand idly by
the blood of your neighbor," said
Ruth Messinger, president and execu-
tive director of the American Jewish
World Service.
AJWS helped found the Jewish
Coalition Responding to AIDS in
Africa, a coalition made up of 18
organizations and congregations in
the United States.
The AIDS epidemic has continued
to spread since the first case was diag-
nosed in the early 1980s. According
to World Health Organization statis-
tics, 5 million people were newly
infected and 3 million people — or
about 8,000 a day — died from
AIDS this year.
Humanitarian efforts so far have
focused on funding research to find a
cure for the disease and on getting
care to those who need it. In his State
of the Union address last January,
President George W. Bush set aside
$15 billion over 5 years to fund AIDS
relief. Last week, Congress allocated
$2.4 billion for the first year of that
commitment.

On Dec. 1, Jewish leaders focused
on those still waiting for care. All evi-
dence points to the need for increased
care, especially among people suffer-
ing from HIV and AIDS in poor and
developing countries. In sub-Saharan
Africa, for example, where 2.4 million
people died of AIDS in 2002, only
about 50,000 people are getting treat-
ment, according to UNAIDS, the
United Nations program on
HIV/AIDS.
Of the 5 million to 6 million peo-
ple in developing countries who are
infected with HIV and need access to
drug treatment programs like anti-
retroviral care, only 300,000 have
access, according to the UNAIDS
Web site.

Jewish Intent

Part of the open letter's intent was to
make people aware of how seriously
the Jewish community is taking the
AIDS epidemic, said Rabbi David
Saperstein, director of the Religious
Action Center.
"Now we hope the letter will be dis-
tributed to synagogues and rabbis ,
across the country and lead them to
do more educational programs and
look for ways to be helpful in expand-
ing the response to this issue," Rabbi
Saperstein said.
Jewish organizations are not new-
comers to the AIDS fight. Jewish
groups have been involved for the last
15 years in confronting the epidemic,
from reaching out to sick community
members to working on legislation
that would relieve developing nations
of their debt so they can use resources
on education and health care instead
of paying off loans, Rabbi Saperstein
said.
On one level, there is a moral
imperative in Judaism to intervene to
save lives and help people, he said.
On another, Jews especially have seen
what happens when people stand by
as others are dying.
AJWS has been a driving force in
AIDS relief efforts within the Jewish
community. The organization spends
more than one-third of its $3 million
international development and relief
budget on AIDS relief programs.
Over the past three years, AJWS has

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