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Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at the Day of Hope: Fight Aids in Africa Rally

Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C.
April 10, 2002

Contact: Alexis Rice or Erin Glazer 202-387-2800

Yesterday, Jewish communities around the world observed Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Among the central lessons for humanity that the Holocaust teaches us is the terrible price paid when decent men and women stand idly by while innocents are victimized or suffer. Today, in the face of a different kind of human disaster - one of awesome dimension, we listen still, and still, too often, there is only silence while 28.1 million Africans are now living with HIV/AIDS; while 40% of Sub-Saharan African children will lose a parent to AIDS. At such a moment, we must all be guided by the commandment of Leviticus 19: Lo Ta'a-mod al Dam Re'echa. You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.

For the sake of the victims, for our own sake, for the sake of history and decency, we dare not stand idly by in the face of the pandemic of AIDS.

The global AIDS crisis is one of the most urgent public health emergencies humanity has ever seen. Despite the impressive advances in medicine since the time of the Bubonic Plague, the death toll from AIDS is on course to surpass that of the Black Death. With staggering infection rates across the globe, AIDS destroys families, destroys communities and particularly in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the world, threatens to destabilize the social, cultural, and economic fabric of entire nations. We must not, we dare not, stand idly by.

There are 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS across the globe, 95 percent of these people have no access to the high-cost medications that have made HIV a manageable illness for many in wealthier countries like the United States. Worldwide, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 18 million people, almost 15 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, and that number is expected to double over the next decade. By the year 2010, the AIDS crisis will make orphans of 40 million children if we do not take decisive action now to turn the tide. We must not, we dare not, stand idly by.
We in the faith community cannot allow our political leaders to turn their backs on an entire continent torn apart by the modern day plague of AIDS. Now is the time for religious leaders, for churches, synagogues, mosques and all Houses of worship across America to insist that our elected officials do what is necessary to effectively combat global AIDS, support affordably medicines for every nation, and cancel debt to allow the most impoverished nations to redirect their load repayment funds toward urgently needed HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. We must not, we dare not, stand idly by.

Now is the time for action. Today - this very day - 8000 people worldwide will die from AIDS. They will die because we are busy, because we have other priorities, because of bigotry; they will die because they are far away in Africa; this will die most of all because we don't care. Think of it: on every death certificate - 8000 new ones today, and again tomorrow, and again the next day - on 8000 death certificates, let the cause of death be accurately reported: cause of death - indifference. And perhaps one day we will be fortunate enough to have children or grandchildren who will with puzzled expressions ask: did you not know? Or, may God help us, is it that you did not care? How will we answer them? How will the Members of Congress, whose every unresponsive day means more pain, more suffering, more death, more orphans - how will they answer? No, we - and they - must not, we dare not stand idly by.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .

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