Despite significant progress in HIV prevention and treatment the past 30 years, about 50,000 people are diagnosed with the AIDS virus each year in the United States.
To bring attention to the persistent HIV/AIDS health problem, Ahavath Achim Synagogue is holding a number of special events in December in connection with World AIDS Day, which was Monday, Dec. 1.
Ahavath Achim is displaying a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Srochi Hall until Tuesday, Dec. 21. The quilt is made up of more than 90,000 panels and is the world’s largest piece of folk art.
Atlanta Jewish Academy’s Upper School will display a portion of the quilt on its Doraville campus and hold an educational session for students to learn about HIV and AIDS.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, the Buckhead synagogue will hold a HIV/AIDS memorial and healing Havdalah prayer service with songs led by Congregation Bet Haverim’s music director, Gayanne Guerin. The service is meant to mourn those lost to the disease and educate those in attendance that HIV can strike anyone and that Atlanta is not immune to the effects of the virus, which returned to the front pages recently with actor Charlie Sheen’s announcement that he carries the virus.
“HIV and AIDS is not a gay disease; it’s a world epidemic,” said Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal of Ahavath Achim. “Minority communities who don’t have good access to sexual education and medication are the ones who are being affected most. It’s here in Atlanta. We like to ignore it, but it’s here.”
In 1993, Ahavath Achim congregant Michael Shure died from complications of the AIDS virus. He was 35 years old.
The largest event planned at the synagogue will be an HIV/AIDS Shabbat service Saturday, Dec. 19, featuring guest speaker Dr. Stephen Margolis, who will speak about the history of AIDS in the United States, and his son, Dr. Andrew Margolis, who will speak during the post-Kiddush beit midrash about HIV in 2015.
The month of events at AA was planned by the congregation’s LGBT task force and Rabbi Rosenthal, who sought to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Atlanta and to educate people on misconceptions that remain.
“For me, the biggest piece of it is that our country did not do right by the people who first got this disease, and we still don’t,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “As a spiritual community, our duty is to stand and support people in their time of need, and as a religious community, we haven’t done that. I really feel that this is in some way doing teshuvah for me and my congregation.”