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Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on World Aids Day

Old Ebbitt Grill
Washington, D.C.
December 1, 2003


Contact:Alexis Rice or Jacob Fain 202.387.2800

On this World AIDS Day we remember our brothers and sisters, parents and children, who we have lost to the AIDS pandemic. Today we stand together, religious leaders from diverse faiths, to remember the more than 22 million, over 18 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone, who have died of this epidemic. And at the very moment we have gathered here, the leaders of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jewish streams of the American Jewish community have issued a joint letter to synagogues and rabbis across America, urging them to make a major priority of their involvement in the campaign to end this terrible pandemic.

22 million! But as deeply alarming as the numbers are, we must never forget, that these numbers represent real people. Across the globe, and most particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, these real people are forgotten. So, we are here to remember the father who went to funerals for AIDS victims every day, until he was too weak to leave his bed, and who lost his struggle with the virus today. We are here to remember the mother, whose husband left her when she began showing signs of AIDS, and who left behind three children, the oldest of whom is 6 years old. We are here to remember the member of the Treatment Action Campaign, who spent the last year of his life pressuring the South African government to provide life-saving drugs to all in need, but for whom those drugs did not come fast enough. And to remember the teenager, who contracted HIV because she had to sell her body to raise money to pay for her school fees in the hope of a brighter future, but who will never see that future.

As we remember the thousands of people who lost their lives today, we remember the Biblical mandate of Leviticus 19: You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. Often, we think of this as a metaphor, teaching that we must help those in need. Here, thinking about the AIDS pandemic, we are also speaking quite directly, quite literally, of our neighbor's blood.

Today - this very day - 8500 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; they will die most of all because we just don't care enough. Think of it: on every death certificate - 8500 new ones today, and again tomorrow, and again the next day - on 8500 death certificates, let the cause of death be accurately reported: cause of death - indifference. One day, perhaps 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 leaders of the nations of the world, whose failure to respond adequately 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.

And so, today, on this 16th annual World AIDS Day, we stand here together, religious leaders from diverse faith traditions, to call on our nation, including the Congress and President Bush, to take up the challenge of his words, "Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many." We have, thankfully, expanded our efforts. But none who follow this crisis believe we, or the other nations, have come close to taking the steps necessary to stop this epidemic. As a crucial component of our country's moral voice, we have come together to say, if even one person who we could have saved, dies on account of our failure to act, we have not done enough. We come together to say we will not stand idly by. Together we have the capacity to save the lives of millions. We need only the will to ensure that those in need around the world have access life-saving prevention programs and medications.

For the sake of our shared humanity, we cannot afford to fail.

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



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