Navigate to News section

What to Read—and Do—on World Aids Day

Resources and reading for the annual day of commemoration and education

Stephanie Butnick
December 01, 2014

Today is World AIDS Day, a day marked annually since 1988 to raise awareness about AIDS, promote HIV testing, honor those living with HIV/AIDS, and remember those who have died from the disease. According to the CDC, an estimate 35 million people are living with HIV/AIDS across the world. In his presidential proclamation on World AIDS Day this year, President Obama said, “In the face of a disease that extends far beyond our borders, the United States remains committed to leading the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS and ensuring no one is left behind.”

Today we published the story of a mother struggling with how—and whether—to tell her teenage daughters about their father, a doctor who had died 10 years earlier and who had worked in Uganda on decreasing the rates of HIV transmission from pregnant mothers to their children. Marjorie S. Rosenthal writes:

And then in a small part of my brain, I remembered that I knew someone—knew someone very well—who studied how to reduce transmission of HIV from mother to fetus. And in that split second, with truck headlights staring me down, the GPS telling me I had to bear right in three-tenths of a mile—even though the highway appeared to be the same road for 30 more miles—in that split second I wondered if my daughters also knew this person I was thinking about. This person who did this research. I shifted lanes, I passed the three-tenths of a mile marker—which, in fact, was no marker at all but quieted down the GPS—and with clarity—I remembered that it was their father, who had died 10 years before, who did the research, who planned to dedicate his career to improving the lives of very sick children.

In 2012 we published a moving essay by Matt Goodman, who had left Orthodox Judaism years earlier but who turned to the Talmud for comfort as he awaited the results of an HIV test.

So, there I was, in an LGBT HIV/AIDS clinic, surrounded by condoms, rainbow flags, and reassuring pamphlets about life with HIV/AIDS, reading a section of the Talmud about candlewicks in Aramaic. Within minutes, the anxiety was banished and the horror score that chimed a death sentence slowed. I felt like I was again performing my end of the bargain with God. I was making a sacrifice. It was by no means a religious reawakening, but it was definitely a salve. And then, just like that, the candlewick discussion was over and the gates were closed. The results were in.

A Vox Tablet podcast from earlier this year featured Michael Saag, a doctor who in 1982 opened a groundbreaking AIDS treatment and research center in Alabama, who discussed the Jewish values he brought to his work with Tablet executive editor Wayne Hoffman. (Hoffman wrote in 2011 about AIDS in music through the lens of Israeli pop star Ivri Lider’s newest group, The Young Professionals.)

Adam Kirsch reviewed The Scientists: A Family Romance, the haunting 2012 memoir by Marco Roth in which the n+1 cofounder seeks out more information about his father, a medical researcher who died of AIDS when Roth was a teenager. You can read Roth’s essay about the day his father told him he was dying of AIDS here.

There’s a full slate of events for World AIDS Day planned across the world. Online, you can follow the Twitter hashtag #WAD2014, check out the U.N.’s list of resources, and livestream the White House observance today at noon.

West London Synagogue, Britain’s oldest reform synagogue, hosted a World AIDS Day service and concert last night featuring a performance by the Diversity Choir, a London-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community chamber choir.

Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, which is one of the largest HIV research centers in Canada, pledged today to continue its efforts in fighting the disease and preventing its spread.

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City is hosting a safe sex workshop on Dec. 7. Resources on how to plan an event to mark World Aids Day can be found here. Know of any other events in your area? Share them in the comments.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.