Parashat Vayetze

Awaken to Activism

We must stop being silent, sleepy observers of the AIDS pandemic.

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A World-Wide Pandemic

AIDS deaths continue to mount in the poorest parts of the U.S. and around the world. Last year, over four million people worldwide were infected with HIV, including 530,000 children under the age of 15. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than one quarter of the more than 4.3 million people currently in need of antiretroviral therapies actually receive them. Over three percent of children in the region have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Due to the spread of HIV and the inaccessibility of effective treatments, millions of people will not have the opportunity that my friend had to know what middle age, or even the end of childhood, feels like.

Why are we still not standing outside our City Halls shouting "Silence equals death?" 

Like Jacob, we need to wake up. We need to acknowledge the current state of the global AIDS crisis and recognize the holiness and potential for change that is "in this place." Those of us who were involved in local organizing efforts around HIV/AIDS issues in the 1990s opted to go back to sleep too soon. 

The awareness of the presence of God to which Jacob wakes in this week's parashah is what spurs him to continue on his journey. His sojourn eventually leads God to change his name from Jacob, the heel-grabber, to Israel, the God-wrestler. As the people of Israel, may we live up to this name and transform ourselves from silent observers of the AIDS pandemic to those who continue to wrestle with God and humanity for action and for life.

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Rabbi Elliot R. Kukla

Rabbi Elliot Kukla is a rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco.