30 Years of HIV/AIDS

Today is the 30th anniversary of the announcement by the Center for Disease Control of the existence of  AIDS/HIV.  June 5, 1981 – I had completed my junior year in college at USC. Something had been already amiss here in Los Angeles. Something called GRID-Gay Related Immune Disease.  It was fast and deadly.  By the time I finished USC in 1982 and went to Israel for a year -the crisis was mounting fast. Time Magazine had already done a cover on AIDS.  And people were getting sick.  It was spreading quickly. There was so much we didn’t know then.

I have been a part of the AIDS community all these years.  My rabbinate was in part defined by the crisis and the rabbi I have become has been shaped by the countless hospital visits, funerals, support groups, families and individuals I have counseled connected to this virus.  On a day like today I think about the doctors who I forged a friendship with as I visited their patients and who I comforted when especially in the early years during the late 80’s there was little the doctors could do.  I think about the many congregants who died from AIDS. And their lovers scorned by their families.  I think about the quilt panels made. I think about die-ins ACT UP used to stage on city streets to protest the fact that our President at the time Ronald Reagan was so silent. I think about so many days and nights at Sherman Oaks Hospital on the third floor and 5P21 at County or the old Midway Hospital.  All ground zero in caring for people with AIDS/HIV. I think about the fights I had with the Cedars-Sinai chaplain, an Orthodox rabbi who refused to visit AIDS patients. And how we changed his heart. I think about the trainings I did for Jewish funeral homes on AIDS and how to treat family members.  I think about all of the young men I helped connect to social services so that they would have someone watch over them or a buddy or just food to eat.  I think about how slow our government was to respond and finally how Surgeon General C. Everett Koop made great strides in getting America to pay attention.

30 years is a long time.  I am grateful that so much has changed. That there are better drugs to help people manange their disease. I am grateful that I still get to lead a Jewish HIV+ Support Group. But the sad truth is -there is no cure yet. No magic pill or potion.

That day is still far off.

So in memory of all the guys: Rick, Ken, Robin, Jay, Art, Michael, Billy, Hal, Murray, Lenny, Leonard, David, David, Allan, Brett, Brad, Mick, Bart, Charley, Frank, Kenny, and so many more.

May their memory live for a blessing on this AIDS anniversary.

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