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Praying for Healing on World AIDS Day

November 28, 2012 | Worship and High Holidays

The following remarks were given by Harold Levine at today’s morning minyan:

We are now at the section of our service where we offer prayers for healing and remembrance.  As this Saturday, December 1, is World AIDS Day.  I would ask your permission to share some thoughts as a New Yorker and as a gay man whose life was changed forever by the AIDS epidemic.

In the years between 1987 and 1997, I lost six close friends, all gay men, and knew of dozens more men who died, most of them in their 30s or early 40s.  For many of us, there is a whole phantom, lost generation of gay men in New York:  men who would now be in their 50s and 60s, in the prime of their lives.

More than 100,000 New York City residents have died of HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic.  In both 1994 and 1995, at the peak of the epidemic in the city, there were more than 8,000 deaths. Or, stated another way: more than 20 people each day.

More than 600,000 Americans have died of HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. To put that number in perspective: the U.S. lost 291,000 service members on the battlefield in World War II; 47,000 in Vietnam.  

Even with the world’s best treatment options, more than 15,000 Americans will die of HIV/AIDS this year.  

There is no billion dollar memorial to these hundreds of thousands of friends, lovers, family members and fellow citizens - nor will there be, nor should there be. Their memorial is in the hearts and minds of those of us who knew them, loved them, and think of them every single day.

To a large extent, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has moved from the gay male population to communities of color, and from the first world to the developing world.  Although it is hard to fathom, 34 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS, 3.4 million of them are under the age of 15.  23 million of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.  It is estimated that 2.7 million people were newly infected in 2010 and that 390,000 of them were children. That year alone, 1.8 million people across the globe succumbed to their illness. They are gone.

Today, as I do here every day, I will be praying for healing for my friend Kevin, who has lived with HIV for nearly 25 years now, staying remarkably resilient through years of medical treatments.  I will also be praying for the millions throughout the world living with HIV/AIDs, in the hope that they get access to effective treatment and stay alive long enough to see a cure.

I will be saying Kaddish today for my six close friends who died of AIDS, for the many more whom I knew less well, and for the millions I will never know, many of whom will die because they had the misfortune to live in places without effective medical care, or where the stigma of an AIDS diagnosis and disclosure of their illness was worse than death itself.  

I invite all of you to say Kaddish today for anyone you know who died of AIDS or complications from HIV.   

As John Donne said:

“Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Dedicated to the memory of my friends: Cary, Scot, Glenn, Chuck, Kevin, and Gil.

Our morning minyan is open to all and meets every Monday through Friday (excluding some holidays) at 8:15 am in our Community House.

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