Quote for today

“Intelligent people know of what they speak; fools speak of what they know.”

– Minchas Shabbos Pirkei Avos 3:18 / Ethics Of The Fathers


A song from Kdam 2011

Dad reminded me, that Kdam is coming up again. It might not be trendy any more to like Eurovision Song Contests, but it is a family hobby for us. I hope to be home for Kdam evenings just for the fun of it. We make caramel popcorn, fizzy lemonade and fried potatoes and vote. A lot of fun!

Decisions, decisions

“People often avoid making decisions out of fear of making a mistake.  Actually, the failure to make decisions is one of life’s biggest mistakes.”

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg, 48 Ways To Wisdom, Way #4

Buzzing Bees

My dad has a friend, who is from a beekeeper family. She has been sending us honey from Hungary for about a year now. There are many of us, we eat a lot of honey. We always supplemented the honey from Andrea with local honey. Yehiel and I love honey, and we eat it almost daily. I am also spending a small fortune on honey!

Two weeks ago I saw a sign for cheap used beekeeping supplies. I managed to buy enough supplies for two families, with promise for actual bees in the spring! I1m becoming an urban beekeeper. Don’t worry, I actually know a few things about bees and how to keep them. I’m very excited to have my own honey!

Also, I wanted to share with you a giveaway that’s open to USA residents and international readers as well. No purchase required, and you can win an Amazon gift card if you are a foreigner like me, or a Starbucks or iTunes one if you are in the USA along with some other goodies! It’s by a friend of my dad’s, really nice people, who have adopted two girls internationally.

Keep the Han in Hanukkah!

funny celebrity pictures - Keep the Han in Hanukkah
see more Lol Celebs

It’s not making Judaism this is making fun of, btw. 

Once More About HIV and AIDS

Some of you might know that I spent some of my childhood in my mother’s native South Africa and Namibia as well. I was infected in one of those two countries. There were many other people who I knew, who also caught HIV around the same time. Unfortunately most of them have died, leaving children orphaned and families impoverished.

Life in rural African communities differs a lot from our comfortable Western (or in my case, Middle Eastern) living. Poverty, malnutrition and often the absence of available and affordable medical care maked AIDS the same ruthless killer that so terrified the USA and Europe two decades ago. Local beliefs and customs don’t really  help with the situation: condoms are a rarity, and used even more rarely. Christian, especially Catholic missionaries don’t help either. The no condoms part of their message is heard,  but somehow the do not  have extra- or pre-marital sex part gets lost. Apparently there is a belief that sex with a virgin cures AIDS, which is a false rumour. So the virus spreads.

The minimal care that patients receive guarantees that they will develop AIDS sooner rather than later–all this in an era when effective medicine is available for those of us, who were privileged to be born elsewhere. In Africa, in my Africa, people suffer, because they can’t afford what comes naturally to me.

In Israel HIV infection rates are on the rise. Currently there are 5,658 of us in the country, living with HIV or AIDS. The majority is males. The rate of the spread of infection is increasing, and with fewer and fewer immigrants from countries with high infection rates we can no longer blame “import” for the increase. I see an increasing carelessness in my generation, who are willing to take the risks and assume that they won’t be infected.

In this lies the biggest danger: undiagnosed people can spread the disease easily. They don’t know, often they don’t care, and pass HIV on. They don’t know and they don’t want to know. They don’t want to be THE guy with HIV. They don’t want to be outcasts.

I do think the media are contributing to the stigmatization of people with HIV and to the misconceptions that are very much alive today. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s TV movies and films such as “Philadelphia” and  “And the Band Played On”, showing some aspects of life with AIDS. There is Rent, there were characters suffering and dying from AIDS in episodes of many TV shows. Then things got quiet, and the idea people still carry around is based on those old, and often inaccurate portrayals of life with HIV. It’s about time there would be a “real” HIV+ character on one of the popular shows or in a good movie.

When asked about what my greatest challenge with HIV is, my answer is unvariably is disclosure. Who to tell and what has been a challenge since the day of my diagnosis. I honestly believe that my parents didn’t handle this too well. I grew up terrified of anyone finding out, and when I ended up in a situation when I had to publicly tell a lot of people about my HIV status, I realized that some of those people should have known already… and should have been educated about it.

So here I am, one of the 5,658 in this country. My name is Yonah. I am HIV+.

Growing Up Positive

Down Syndrome gets a month. Childhood cancer gets one, too. So do autism an muscular dystrophy. Mitochondrial disease has a week.

HIV and AIDS gets a single day: December 1.

ImageDecember 1 is usually the day when children in Europe start to open their Advent calendars, and eat that first piece of mediocre chocolate. For me December 1 is the day when I take my HIV plushie to school.

I was diagnosed with HIV when I was a child, during a routine test following an accident. Neither of my parents were HIV positive, and for a while it was a mystery how I contracted HIV. There is a chance we know now, but it no longer matters. What matters is the way my life changed because of that diagnosis. For the remainder of my childhood, it was something that was not talked about much. It was kept a secret: a dark, shameful secret, something that embarrassed my father.

I always felt that I was worse than others because of having HIV. I knew that I’d be expelled from the school I went to if anyone found out I was infected with the gay plague. When I eventually came out as gay to my father, he made it known that bringing homosexuality and HIV into his home was more than he could tolerate… and soon I found myself alone, homeless.

Maybe that’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I was found by a great family, where having a well controlled chronic condition wasn’t the end of the world. So far away from being the end of the world that when I found a Human immunodeficiency virus plushie online that made me squee in delight, I got it for Hanukah. I have been sleeping with it ever since. My boyfriend sometimes kicks it out of bed, but it is a nice, soft pillow substitute.

One of the things I found problematic was really growing up with HIV and facing challenges of adulthood with the virus. From military service to relationships, I found myself having questions that I wasn’t know who could answer. The counselor at the HIV clinic was trying to be helpful. “Always use a condom.” I had a million questions. What about oral sex? What about other things? Like my accident? What if it happens in my home? “Always use a condom.” Not very helpful at all.

I will never forget the evening my dad set my boyfriend and I down to discuss things beyond the birds and bees. He knew mostly what I did: that undetectable viral load in the blood doesn’t mean undetectable viral load in semen. Of course the incidence of passing the infection through oral sex with undetectable viral load is minimal–we couldn’t find a recorded case–we should check out the CDC site about what they advise. Here it is:

At least one scientific article has suggested that plastic food wrap may be used as a barrier to protect against herpes simplex virus during oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex. However, there are no data regarding the effectiveness of plastic food wrap in decreasing transmission of HIV and other STDs in this manner and it is not manufactured or approved by the FDA for this purpose.

Plastic. Food. Wrap.

This must have been the funniest thing about living with HIV, but not the only one. Living with HIV is not a death sentence and not an awfully sad thing in the West. What makes it hardest for me is not the virus itself, or the medication I have to take every day. It’s the attitude and ignorance of other people. But that, too, can change.

To read other posts about HIV and AIDS, and to join this effort to educate and share, visit Positive Posts 2012!

Learning to learn

On Thursday and Friday I was taking exams at school. I will sit the Israeli matriculation exams in January, so I had to pass some exams at my school first. I have done Hebrew, English, Maths, Physics and Biology already, still have to take History, Scriptures and PE, which will happen tomorrow and Monday. PE will be mostly the health aspect, because my leg is still not up to 100%.

When I walked out of the exam on Thursday, after scoring 95, the headmaster told me that when I showed up at the school a year and a half ago, he didn’t think I’d ever pass the 12th grade, let alone half a year early. He asked me how I did it.

My schoolimng was eclectic. I attended state secular schools from the age of 4 to 8, and then went to a Jewish day school in Johannesburg and then I was home schooled in Windhoek. Because TV was mostly in languages I didn’t understand, reading became my primary form of entertainment. When I got back to Israel I spent two years in state religious schools before my father put me in haredi religious schools after my mother died. For three years my education contained barely more than the Torah and religion. So I was about 3-4 years behind the other students in academic subjects.

So how I caught up to them in a year and a half?

I read.

I remember the day I got my textbooks for make up tutoring. I stayed up all night reading my math textbook, essentially teaching the material to myself. I kept on reading, and while doing so, the gaps were filled. I started reading Stephen Hawking again, just for fun. I started to read studies and essays, novels, graphic novels and comic books. I read philosophy, religion, science, romance, even Twilight. Please don’t stone me.

So I spent the last year and a half reading whatever I could get my hands on. This was both to satisfy my long supressed curiousity and to escape from whatever harshness reality brings. It’s a lot easier to do with a 400 page book that lasts 2 days than the movie adaptation that lasts 2 hours! There are so many different worlds where I can retreat to for solace on my bookshelf.

While I’m not one of the cool kids, I don’t need to be, simply because I’m one of the smart kids, with a global network of similarly minded uncool youths. Some of these uncool people will make the world move forward, and I’m very happy to be considered one of them.

Late nights

Ever since I was 11 and living in Namibia, I loved staying up late at night and looking at the stars, wondering what’s behind there. What’s behind what we can see. Unlike my dad, I wasn’t thinking of God and spiritual things, but stars, galaxies, black holes, dark matter and the powers that made the world turn. Still not God, but gravity, electro magnetism and weak and strong nuclear forces. The world is ruled by them, and at age 11 I was gifted a book called A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.

Now, almost 7 years later, I love staying up late at night and look at stars, and wonder… Will I be the one to come up with the unified theory that can really unite physics? Will I be  the Sheldon Cooper or will I end up as the Wolowitz of my world, a Jewish aero-space engineer who is forever being treated as second class by his genius friends with PhD’s?


Christmas Trees

I’ve never decorated a Christmas tree. I’ve never had a Christmas tree. Not even a Hanukah bush. What is that, anyway? There are no bushes in the Hanuka story or the tradition. Lights proclaiming the miracle that God performed involve candles or oil lanterns, but not a bush. That would be a firehazard anyway.

Haveing always lived in Jewish communities, I didn’t get to see much in the way of traditional Christmas trees. Even the shops we usually went to lacked them. There were some in Namibia, but those barely resembled those in Europe or the States.

When I got home from school today I saw one of the American girls decorating a small Christmas tree in her room. I think it’s time to get out the chanukiyot and make sure that they are clean and shiny. 9 days left till Hanukah.