An emotional show of unity pervaded the West London Synagogue on World Aids Day, as local activists joined forces with their Israeli counterparts to take up the fight against HIV/Aids discrimination.
The 300-plus crowd shone electric lights to match the fully lit menorah, which symbolised the beacon of hope. Rabbi David Mitchell of West London Synagogue said: “The hope is we can spread light by helping to ensure that business and governments throughout the world see that people with HIV and Aids hold infinite value.”
The service started with the sombre remembrance prayers for those who had lost their battles to the illness. This was followed by members of the crowd lighting Yizkor candles. The second half of the event witnessed a concert from the London Gay Men’s Choir, performing alongside The Movement for Reform Judaism’s Maya Levy.
The HE Ambassador Mark Regev told the crowd, “I am very proud to be here. Aids affects people in Israel, Britain and around the world. Humanity needs to make sure that it continues to search for treatments that help people everywhere.”
Speaking after the event, Rabbi Mitchell told the Jewish News about how he developed his pastoral skills volunteering at an Aids hospice. “I was placed there during my rabbinical training. I learnt so much from the experience it provided the impetus to want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the HIV/ Aids community.”
The JAT’s (formerly the Jewish Aids Trust) Laurence Lewis told the Jewish News that Sex and Relationship Education has improved greatly in the Jewish community over the past thirty years, but that there were “still areas, which need much more support”.
“We are a volunteer organisation, providing education for free. I give Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) to adults, including people who have never had any SRE before,” he said. This is often to members of the strictly orthodox community but can also be people who are coming out of a long-term relationship, who lack awareness of how to prepare for modern relationships. The charity currently supports 28 people affected by HIV/Aids, who require emotional and practical support.
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The Israel Aids Task Force’s Chen Shmilo added that “There is much work still to be done in Israel regarding testing for HIV/Aids. Our latest figures tell us 70 per cent of people have never been tested. We also need to ensure people in groups, like the Arab community and strictly orthodox, have the same medical support as those living in the main hubs.”