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Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jewish Leaders Call on the Jewish Community to Renew and Affirm Its Commitment to Fighting the Global Aids Crisis

There can be no more urgent message for us to heed. The global AIDS crisis demands that we no longer stand idly by as our neighbors worldwide needlessly suffer and, too often, die.


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Alexis Rice or Jacob Fain 202.387.2800

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2003 - Today, leaders from the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jewish Movements joined together in an open letter to the American Jewish Community on the occasion of World AIDS Day. The signatories, representing both the synagogue and rabbinic organizations of each of the three Movements, together represent more than 1,700 congregations, more than 3,500 rabbis, and approximately 85% of affiliated North American Jews. In the letter, the leaders call on "synagogues and rabbis to invigorate our commitment to ending the AIDS crisis in Africa and elsewhere around the world, and to encourage our community members to urge our elected leaders to fund a U.S. fair share of the global need."

Signatories to the letter are Daniel G. Cedarbaum, President, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation; Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice President, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Rabbi Richard Hirsh, Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Executive Vice President, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Joel Myers, Executive Vice President, Rabbinic Assembly; and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism.

Citing the Biblical commandment of Leviticus 19:16, "You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor," the leaders announced, "There can be no more urgent message for us to heed. The global AIDS crisis demands that we no longer stand idly by as our neighbors worldwide needlessly suffer and, too often, die."

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who at a press conference this morning, with other religious leaders, called on the United States to expand its response to the AIDS crisis, and discussed with the media this joint letter:

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 had 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 priority of their involvement in the campaign to end this terrible pandemic.

Ruth Messinger, President of the American Jewish World Service, which dedicates more than one third of its international development and relief budget on AIDS-related activities in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, welcomed the letter, commenting that, "This is an important step for our community to stand together and reaffirm the value of pikuach nefesh, saving lives above all else, as the world races to end the greatest humanitarian crisis we face today."

The full text of the letter follows:

Open Letter to the Jewish Community on World AIDS Day from the Leadership of the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jewish Movements

On December 1, millions of people around the world will commemorate World AIDS Day. Sixteen years ago the first World AIDS Day was commemorated as a day of reflection and observance in response to a plague to which we had no answer. This year, on World AIDS Day, over 8,500 people will die, but not because we have no answer to the HIV virus, but rather because we have failed to insure that those who need life-saving knowledge, treatment and medications have access to them. And this year, on World AIDS Day, more than 14,500 people will be infected not because we lack the ability to stop the spread of the disease, but because proven prevention strategies and technologies are still inaccessible for countless millions across the globe.

Worldwide, more than 42 million people have been infected by HIV. There have been almost 25 million deaths thus far. Every year 5 million more people are infected and 3 million die. In Leviticus 19, our Torah commands us: You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. There can be no more urgent message for us to heed. The global AIDS crisis demands that we no longer stand idly by as our neighbors worldwide needlessly suffer and, too often, die.

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, is a much needed first step towards stemming the spread of the AIDS crisis. Many experts warn that for the international efforts to be successful, the U.S. will need to expand significantly its funding. Two of the world's leading health organizations, UNAIDS & the World Health Organization, project that the world will need to spend more than $15.4 billion next year to control AIDS, as well as tuberculosis and malaria, the two diseases that are responsible for more than half of all AIDS deaths in the developing world. Given the urgency of the epidemic, we call on the United States to commit to an investment commensurate with the scope of the crisis.

Nearly a year ago in his State of the Union Address, President Bush issued a global call to action to combat the Global AIDS crisis. We commend the President for that call. However, we cannot afford to delay. Since the President's speech, around the world, more than 2.5 million people have died of AIDS, and more than 4.2 million have been infected by the HIV virus. There are now 15 million AIDS orphans in Africa. Most urgently, international relief organizations have identified at least another 15 million people who will be at risk of famine this year not because of drought, but, because of HIV infection levels, there are not enough healthy workers to grow and harvest the necessary food. President Bush said in his speech, "Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many." The opportunity for action remains, and as Jews we cannot allow this call to fall on deaf ears.

And so, in spirit of pikuach nefesh, we call on our synagogues and rabbis to renew and affirm our commitment to ending the AIDS crisis in Africa and elsewhere around the world, and to encourage our community members to urge our elected leaders to fund a U.S. fair share of the global need. We must not stand idly by - together we have the capacity to save the lives of millions. For the sake of our shared humanity, we cannot afford to fail.


Daniel G. Cedarbaum, President, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice President, President, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Rabbi Richard Hirsh, Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Rabbi Paul Menitoff, Executive Vice President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Joel Myers, Executive Vice President, Rabbinic Assembly
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism

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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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