Delivered by Jeremy Gimbel on Dec. 1, 2015 (World AIDS Day) at Founders Metropolitan Community Church

I was introduced to AIDS on December 24th, 9 PM, Eastern Standard Time when I learned about the musical “RENT” by Jonathan Larson. For the first time, this unknown “thing” I had heard about on the news had a face and, more importantly, a story, an experience.

As I learned more and more about HIV and AIDS, I knew that I had to do everything in my power to care for those affected, both the patients and their families and communities. I knew that I had to do everything in my power to make sure that my peers were informed from reputable sources, that the stigma of those with HIV/AIDS would be mitigated, that my generation could face this head-on and work together to bring a little more light into this dark world.

I knew I needed to be an ally.

And I knew I was not alone. The Reform Movement of Judaism has committed to and lived out the values of our tradition: visiting the sick, saving lives, acts of loving kindness are not just buzz words, they are in our DNA. And they have remained our guiding principles in dealing with this epidemic. Judaism has always rejected the idea that AIDS is any sort of plague or punishment from God.

On the contrary, the Reform Movement has been vocal in advocating for those with AIDS from the early days, passing its first resolution dealing with HIV/AIDS in 1985 - and to all of you wondering, no, I was not yet alive when that happened. The Reform Movement was an ally that advocated for increased government interventions, fighting for public health efforts as well as advocating for those with AIDS and their families so they would not be discriminated when they sought housing, employment, health and community services, and public education. (URJ Resolution, 1985)

And you have an ally in Congregation Kol Ami. Kol Ami has done outreach and group support for people with HIV/AIDS since our founding, running the only Jewish support group in the nation. But I am here not only representing the community of Kol Ami, but also our spiritual leader, Rabbi Denise Eger. Rabbi Eger has been an AIDS activist since the mid-80s, editing the first curriculum on HIV/AIDS put out by the Reform Movement in 1987. As the president of the governing body of Reform rabbis, Rabbi Eger has advocated extensively for LGBT rights, and helped shepherd the resolution that just passed a few weeks ago by the leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism, that advocates for transgender rights, joining similar statements from the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

My new friends, today, I am reminded of the words from Ecclesiastes: “In the days of prosperity, be joyful; in the day of adversity, consider.” (Ecc. 7:14) And I am guided by Rabbi Tanchum ben Chiyya, who taught, “In the happy days of your neighbors, be with them in their happiness; if a day of tragedy befalls your neighbor, consider how you can show the neighbor loving kindness to deliver the neighbor from their tragedy.” (Pesikta Kahana 191b). We all have had tragic days. But through the power of working together, we have shown each other the loving kindness to deliver us all from the AIDS virus.

This is the power of working together.

The Festival of Lights, Chanukah, is approaching. This Sunday, we will light our Chanukah menorahs. And on that night, shortly after sundown, we will light two candles. Why two? We light one candle because it is the first night of Chanukah, and we will add one more light every night. But the other candle is just a helper candle, called the “shamash.” It’s only job is to light the other lights. The “shamash” is an ally to the other lights. It helps them burn brightly. When the sun sets early, the Chanukah menorah lights up our nights. It brings warmth and joy to our faces in our darkest times. And it would not be possible without allies. 

This is the power of working together. 

There is much work to be done. There is much pain to be healed.

But in this season of love, let us recommit ourselves to be each other’s allies.

Let us be each other’s “shamash,” each other’s helper.

Let us bring a little more light into this world.

This is the power of working together.