Talk to Me About HIV

CBST Advances HIV Education and Prevention Program

Talk to Me About HIV has begun raising awareness about HIV risk, prevention, treatment, and stigma among Jewish clergy, professional staff, and lay leaders.

CBST is moving quickly to advance “Talk to Me About HIV,” an awareness and education program designed to help clergy, staff and lay leaders at synagogues and Jewish organizations engage more actively with their communities around issues of HIV testing, prevention, treatment, and stigma.

Drawing upon three decades of experience with HIV/AIDS care and activism, CBST through its Talk to Me About HIV project offers practical and pastoral strategies to address the ongoing HIV epidemic, which remains an urgent issue for the Jewish community in New York City. This effort is aligned with the state’s goal to end the AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020.

In May of 2017, CBST held at a half-day session for Jewish institutional leaders—rabbis, cantors, youth directors, chaplains, professional staff, and lay leaders—to introduce the Talk to Me About HIV campaign and to help them address HIV-related issues in their own congregations and communities.

Speakers at the program included: Dr. Asa Radix, Senior Director of Research and Education and Dr. Uri Belkind, Clinical Director of the Health Outreach to Teens (HOTT) program at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center on state of HIV today as a medical and public health issues; Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, former Associate Rabbi at CBST, on CBST’s own history with HIV/AIDS and how HIV is a social justice issue; attorney and former Board President William Hibsher speaking on legal issues raised by HIV; and noted teen health educator, Scott Fried.

Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, recently Director of Social Justice Programming at CBST, opened the session by addressing “what we talk about when we talk about HIV” from a Jewish perspective, and later led a chevruta session with verses from the Torah and Pirkei Avot.

Additional “lunch-and-learn” sessions have been designed specifically for rabbinical students. In April 2017, Talk to Me About HIV conducted its first such program at the Jewish Theological Seminary where the team was welcomed by Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, Associate Dean of the Rabbinical School.  Michael Broder, co-chair of the CBST Red Ribbon Team, offered a presentation on “HIV/AIDS 101 for 2017,” underscoring current perspectives on HIV risk, testing, prevention, treatment, and stigma. Rabbi Bauer then led a discussion about different pastoral situations that JTS students might confront around HIV as new rabbis and how they might start discussions about the subject in Jewish settings.

In May 2017, a group of social justice-oriented rabbinic students from Hebrew College in Boston, led by their dean, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, visited CBST for a Social Justice Shabbaton to introduce the array of social justice programming and causes being championed at CBST. During an intimate discussion of the Talk to Me About HIV program, Broder encouraged rabbis to be open to the likelihood that members of their congregations have been affected by HIV in their lifetimes – either directly or indirectly. He noted that rabbis have a pastoral obligation to be ready to talk about HIV with individual congregants or those gathered in community. Rabbi Bauer continued the conversation, leading the students in a discussion of potential scenarios and corresponding pastoral responses.

“No two of these lunch-and-learns are going to be the same,” said Broder. “The structure and function of the program will vary according to the nature and needs of the audience.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are 1.2 million people infected with HIV living in the United States, one in eight of whom do not even know they are infected and therefore cannot access appropriate treatment.

Talk to Me About HIV is an HIV prevention and education project for clergy and institutional leaders at Jewish congregations, schools, and community centers throughout New York City to engage actively around HIV/AIDS issues. Using informational resources and facilitated workshops, and coming from a place of respect, empowerment, and spirituality, this project facilitates necessary dialogue around HIV testing, prevention, treatment, and stigma.

Talk to Me About HIV is a project of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) and is funded by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene through a contract with Public Health Solutions.

Watch our Talk to Me About HIV "Voices of Community" video playlist!

The project comprises several elements:

  • A resource toolkit addressing practical and pastoral issues regarding HIV including risk, infection, treatment, living with HIV, aging with HIV, and much more. A centerpiece of the project, the toolkit will also be available online
  • Video portraits and conversations with CBST rabbis and community members that tell the viewer what it’s like to be affected by HIV risk or infection, whether as an HIV-negative person or an HIV-positive person navigating the world of dating, sex, and relationships or dealing with issues of prevention or treatment
  • A dedicated half-day seminar at CBST on May 11 for Jewish institutional leaders—rabbis, cantors, youth directors, and chaplains—preparing them to address HIV-related issues in their own congregations and communities
  • A series of lunch-and-learn events held at Jewish seminaries in New York City, whose graduates will soon join the ranks of professional clergy worldwide
  • A revised and expanded version of our famous Jewish safer sex packets, with condoms, lube, and that greatest prevention tool of all—information about options and best practices for protecting yourself and others from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections

For more information please contact Rabbi Marisa James, Director of Social Justice Programming, at 212-929-9498 ext. 822 or TalkHIV@cbst.org.