Ron Diskin: Mapping defenses against HIV | Health | Jewish Journal

Come hear Dr. Ron Diskin TONIGHT at Kol Ami at 7 pm.  Hear about his important research fighting HIV/AIDS.  This is a joint program with Israel’s Consul General, the Weizmann Institute, Kol Ami, The City of West Hollywood, Being Alive, Founders MCC, The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and the West Hollywood Library Foundation.  AND ITS FREE

1200 N. La Brea Ave, West Hollywood


Ron Diskin: Mapping defenses against HIV | Health | Jewish Journal.

Wrestling with AIDS

Parshat Vayishlach/World AIDS DAY

Genesis 32:3-36:43

This week on Shabbat we will observe World AIDS Day.  We recall so many of our friends and lovers who have succumbed to the complications of HIV/AIDS.  Those very difficult early years when the gay men’s community was decimated have given way to longer lives, better prevention and drugs that help keep opportunistic infections at bay.  Thank goodness for the research! But we are still far away from the cure. Many had hoped by this time that a vaccine would have been perfected.  But researchers are closer than ever.  The NIH has several multi-million dollar grants that have been given out to make this a reality.


And yet many in our midst still suffer.  HIV/AIDS is still in our community and in our congregation. Even as the face of AIDS in America and around the world has changed, we can’t forget that AIDS remains a part of our Kol Ami family.  Even though more and more impoverished people, people of color, and women are increasingly those contracting the HIV virus, AIDS is not gone in the gay men’s community. It still requires hyper-vigilance while dating and hooking up.


And it still requires testing.


Don’t be one who sticks his head in the sand.  If you have multiple partners for sex then get tested and get treatment early if you need to.  We have many resources in our midst. Don’t let it be a shanda.  Don’t let it be an embarrassment and a point of shame.


Shame always leads us down a path of destruction and fear.


In our Torah portion Vayishlach, Jacob wrestles with an angel of God the night before he must face his brother Esau.  So many years ago Jacob tricked their father for the blessing and his brother for the birthright.  Jacob had to flee the wrath of his brother and now soon the will reunite.  That evening, Jacob tosses and turns in anticipation.  He remembers how he deceived his brother.  And perhaps now is ashamed of all he did.  In the struggle with the Angel Peniel, Jacob is trying to work through his fear and his shame.

In the end Jacob prevails but will always carry the reminder of that wound that was caused.  He will forever walk differently because of it.  So too if we carry our shame and don’t deal with it will cause us to walk differently, with our heads bowed low rather than the dignity each human being deserves as a made in the image of God!


So let us hold our heads high. No shame in HIV.  But let us as a community care for each other and hold each other as we remember and support one another on this Shabbat of World AIDS Day.


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.

World AIDS Day 2010

Don’t forget World AIDS Day is Wednesday Dec. 1.  It seems the world often does forget. It does forget those with HIV/AIDS.  Whether in Africa, or here in the U.S. HIV is still ever-present.  Lurking. Waiting to attack.

On Wednesday Dec. 1 we will have a chance to focus the world’s thinking on AIDS. Remind the world and government leaders that not enough is being done to combat this disease which affects so many people world wide.  World AIDS Day will remind us that after all these years there still is no cure, no vaccination and that people are getting infected.  In worsening economies so many prevention education programs have been decimated.  That is why we must be sure to talk with young people who don’t see it as the killer disease any more.

But I remember.  I know.  I see the lives it has wrecked havoc on.  The debilitating  complications that come from infection with HIV.  The exhaustion.

So on this coming Wednesday pause to remember those who have died.  Write a letter to your Congress person and to President Obama not to forget the fight against AIDS and HIV both here in the U.S. and globally.

And join with Kol Ami and MCC for an interfaith World AIDS Day Service of Hope and Remembrance at 7 pm at MCC/LA in Los Feliz.   The address is 4953 Franklin Av  Los Angeles 90027.  I hope you will join us.  (Yes it is the first night of Chanukah and we will observe that as part of the service–shining light into the darkness about HIV/AIDS and rededicating ourselves to end AIDS.)  BE THERE.

Condoms condoned by Pope.

Just in time for World AIDS Day on December 1 the Pope has finally begun a proper recognition of the important role of condoms in the prevention of AIDS/HIV disease.  He has admitted that condoms reduce the transmission of AIDS.  This from a Pope and a Vatican and a Catholic Church that has condemned condom use and blamed condemn use for the spread of AIDS!

The Church and the Pope were widely condemned by the UN and European governments and AIDS activists world-wide for its continued opposition to condoms as one key in the limited arsenal of AIDS prevention.  AIDS in Africa especially is a disease of heterosexual males. Encouraging condom use world-wide would help reduce the number of infections. But until now the church has made it clear that it condoms were not permitted.

Here is the link to the article about this.

So in honor of World AIDS Day and In honor of this historic first step and statement be sure to use condoms!

Time for a cure

Today thousands of people will walk the streets of West Hollywood to raise money for Aids Project Los Angeles (APLA).  This is an important act of charity.  And APLA has been a leader in dealing with the enormity of the HIV/AIDS Crisis since the beginning of it.

I am glad that people walk and still try to raise money for people with HIV/AIDS and AIDS services.  But increasingly AIDS is off the map.  Oh AIDS is still around. Lots of people have the HIV virus but it is not the “sexy” cause it once was.  But AIDS is still here. It is still active. It is still making people really sick. And yes people still die from all the complications a suppressed immune system brings with it.

What is scarier still is the number of young people who believe it isn’t a problem.  My friends it is a problem and if you are sexually active with multiple partners and you are engaging in unsafe and unprotected sexual intercourse then you are opening yourself up to infection not only by the incurable HIV virus but so many sexually transmitted diseases that lurk beneath the next encounter.

SO PLEASE take care of yourself.  And remember that AIDS isn’t gone.  It is still here wrecking havoc on people’s lives.

It is time for a cure.  Time for research and development.   Time for the government to fund more research and protocols.  Time for private industry to invest more money.

But in the meantime. Thank you for walking. Thank you for staying aware. And thank you for remembering so many of our friends who still fight each and every day to live with hope and dignity even as they are HIV positive.