The International AIDS Conference

This guest post comes to us from Sara Hahn of the American Jewish World Service. She attended the International AIDS Conference last month and asks “Where were they Jewish organizations?”

A question: “Why should a Jewish organization be present at an international AIDS conference?�

My question: “Why weren’t there more Jewish organizations at an international AIDS conference?�

In early August, 23,000 people from around the world convened in Mexico City for the XVII International AIDS Conference (IAC).  Among those attending were Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Ban Ki-Moon.  There were thousands of speakers, hundreds of panels and events, and an entire Global Village constructed for people and groups from across the globe to assemble.  But to my knowledge, there was only one Jewish organization formally present, American Jewish World Service.

Full transparency here: I work for AJWS, an international development organization working to alleviate hunger, poverty and disease in the developing world.  But I’m not writing to plug AJWS; I’m writing to ask where everyone else was.  I know that there are other Jewish organizations committed to pursuing justice for all, regardless of race, religion or nationality; so why didn’t I see any of them at the largest AIDS conference in the world?

Judaism places an unequivocal value on human life.  We are bound by pikuach nefesh (saving a life) to do all we can to ensure the survival of those who are suffering; the concept of bikur cholim (visiting the sick) teaches us to transcend stigma and discrimination, and to embrace and stand up for those who are ill.  Does the fact that AIDS is most present in far-away countries mean that we can overlook its devastating global impact?  Vayikra/Leviticus 19:16 warns us, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. I am God.� This prohibition steers us from passivity, into the active obligation in the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 82a): “There is nothing that can stand before [the duty of] saving life, with the exception of idolatry, incest and bloodshed.�

Posted on September 16, 2008

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