Progressive, Reform Congregation Kol Ami will mark World AIDS Day with a special interfaith observance, combining awareness, remembrance, and speaking out against HIV stigma.
Founded in 1992 and located in West Hollywood, Congregation Kol Ami is rooted in a rich Jewish tradition with a commitment to social justice. It has become an important leader in the Jewish, LGBTQ+ and West Hollywood communities.
The national theme for the 2021 observance is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice,” and Confirmed speakers for the West Hollywood event include Dr. Michael Gottlieb, the immunologist known for being the first to identify AIDS in 1981 and who has led HIV/AIDS activism and philanthropic efforts associated with HIV/AIDS treatment since then.
Other speakers include Hon. John D’Amico (West Hollywood City Council), Hon. Mitch O’Farrell (Los Angeles City Council 13th District), Rev Denyse Barnes Pastor (LaCrescenta Methodist Church LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Coordinator for the Methodist Church.), Vallerie Wagner Clinic Director, APLA Health Gleicher/Chen Health Center, Rev. Keith Cox (Center for Spiritual Living) and Kol Ami’s Rabbi Denise L. Eger.
As part of the event, Congregation Kol Ami has partnered with the National AIDS Memorial and will bring panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to West Hollywood as part of World AIDS Day observances. It will be displayed mid-November to mid-December. The Quilt is the largest community arts project in the world. Its first panels were created nearly 35 years ago during the darkest days of the pandemic and today, consists of 50,000 individually-sewn panels with the names of more than 110,000 people who have died of AIDS.
This year marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were first reported in the United States. Dr. Gottlieb, our keynote speaker was the first to write about the symptoms in 5 people in his practice for the CDC. During that four decade span, more than 700,000 lives have been lost in this country to HIV/AIDS, with still no cure. Today, HIV is on the rise, particularly among young people, communities of color and in southern states.
Alongside her historic work bringing LGBT acceptance to Reform Judaism, Rabbi Denise L. Eger is known for her work in the LGBT community caring for and supporting people with HIV in a commitment to “help healing the world.” Rabbi Eger would feed those too weak to do it themselves, often removing her mask and gloves, providing a rare dose of human touch. Then she’d move to another patient and another hospital, all while she was coming out publicly.
“The early years of the AIDS epidemic was a nightmare. A diagnosis of AIDS seemed like a certain death sentence,” Rabbi Eger says. “Better treatments, care and education have enabled People with HIV to live long lives. Our support group has continued through the years to provide support, caring, connection and Jewish community.”
Congregation Kol Ami, serving LGBTQ and allied Jews and their families in West Hollywood, was founded by Rabbi Eger during the height of the AIDS crisis. Since then, the congregation has been a prominent source of care for people living with HIV, with its HIV+ support group, the longest running Jewish support group in the nation, continuing today. It accepts new members, regardless of religion, gender expression, and sexual orientation. This event is one of several the congregation has held throughout the year. In April, Rabbi Eger brought together community members and specialists from Israel and West Hollywood to hold a “City-to-City Dialogue” about cure and prevention of HIV.
Kol Ami has grown to be an award-winning congregation by daring to be innovative while remaining rooted in Jewish tradition and practice.
The event is co-sponsored by Center for Spiritual Living and ICAN: Israeli-American Civic Action Network.
Full list of speakers: Rabbi Denise L. Eger, Rev. Keith Cox (CSL), Dr. Michael Gottlieb, Hon. John D’Amico (West Hollywood City Council), Mr. Michael Sugar (long time survivor living with AIDS), Rev. Denyse Barnes (Pastor, LaCrescenta Methodist Church), Hon. Mitch O’Farrell (Los Angeles City Council 13th District), Vallerie Wagner (AIDS Educator and activists, APLA), Mr. Joseph Zipkin (Kol Ami).
Congregation Kol Ami is located at 1200 N La Brea, West Hollywood CA, 90038.
To register for the event visit