Clinician urges Jewish community to reach out to people with AIDS

As a youngster in Hebrew school, David Greenberg thought he'd become a rabbi. He ended up working with AIDS patients as a clinical research nurse instead.

Now the Castro Valley resident feels that his job is similar to a rabbi's.

"My role is special, and whatever my family expected and saw in me as being [like] a rabbi, I am carrying out now," said the 49-year-old R.N., who works at Oakland's Summit Medical Center.

"It's a real care-giving role," he said, adding that others see him as an authority figure and regard him with respect.

In addition, Greenberg feels it is important to teach people about AIDS. On World AIDS Day, Monday, Dec. 1, he will join a panel of speakers as part of an evening remembrance event at the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center.

Titled "It's Not Over," the evening will address AIDS awareness from a Jewish perspective and will include a participatory candlelighting ceremony and remembrances for a rabbi and a 5-year-old Jewish boy, both lost to AIDS.

Other panelists include Roslyn Allen, project director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Rabbi Allen B. Bennett of Temple Israel of Alameda, Cantor Linda Hirschhorn of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro and Kehilla Community Congregation in Berkeley, and Marcia Perlstein, founder-director of the East Bay Volunteer AIDS Therapist Project.

Greenberg will talk about his 10 years at Summit's adult immunology clinic, which he now manages. He will also talk about how he trains nurses to work with patients with HIV/AIDS.

"That's what a rabbi is: a teacher," Greenberg said. "There's a responsibility for our community to learn and understand about AIDS."

Greenberg said he learned compassion from the late Rabbi Saul E. White, the spiritual and politically active leader of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom.

While he was growing up, Greenberg attended Beth Sholom with his family. White, who died in 1983, was noted for his folksiness and his passionate dedication to social issues.

"My love for mankind came from him and his showing us that all people are equal," Greenberg said.

Greenberg has often spoken out against intolerance and injustices targeted against people with AIDS.

"It all begins with hysteria. In Cuba, people with HIV are placed in camps," Greenberg said.

And although there were many scientific breakthroughs last year in AIDS medicine — notably the "triple-cocktail" regimen of protease inhibitors — Greenberg stressed that many people are still somehow forgetting that AIDS still has no cure. He also expressed concern that the general public remains ignorant about the disease and how it is spread.

"How would you feel about having to bathe someone with HIV? Would you feel comfortable? Would you be afraid of touching his festering sores?" he asked. Truly understanding, caring and knowing about HIV/AIDS means that you shouldn't be afraid of touching someone with the disease, Greenberg said.

He said that given its strong commitment to education and to healing the world, the Jewish community should educate itself as fully as possible about AIDs.

"We don't know where we're going with this disease and we need to continue battling it each day."