With the constant security woes, outbreaks of Ebola, and ongoing dearth of public housing, sometimes other important issues can become designated to the back burner, especially if the problem has been around for a while.
For the past few years, at least, Dr. Yuval Livnat has been doing his damnedest to make sure the Israeli public remains acutely aware of the dangers of AIDS and HIV by running the annual Rock4Life entertainment extravaganza.
This year the event is spreading its geographic wings beyond the borders of Tel Aviv, with shows also taking place in Beersheba and Haifa.
“We are growing this year,” says Livnat, who serves as chairman of the Israel AIDS Task Force. “We are going outside Tel Aviv.
The AIDS problem is not confined just to Tel Aviv,” he observes, adding somewhat whimsically that “there are rumors that people have sex outside Tel Aviv, too.”
Rock4Life shows will take place in Beersheba and Haifa on November 30, and in Tel Aviv on December 1 – World AIDS Day.
Judging by the Rock4Life lineup there are plenty of show-business stars who are sensitive to the need to address AIDS and prevent its spread. The big rock acts on the roster include Si Hyman, Corinne Alal, Maor Cohen and The Angelcy frontman Rotem Bar-Or.
Presumably, the audiences at the shows, which will take place at Ashan Hazman in Beersheba and The Syrup Club in Haifa, in addition to seven venues around Tel Aviv, including Passage, Abraxis, Café Bialik and Evita, will be mainly looking to have a good time. Livnat is keen to ensure that the message of the dangers of contracting sexually transmitted diseases also filter through in between the grooving and boogying.
“People often shut themselves off from heavy messages, like warnings about HIVAIDS, and no one wants to come to a lecture about that,” observes Livnat. “You know, we can go to high schools and the students there have to attend the talk, whether they like it or not. But you can’t do that with people past high school age. So you have to arrange an event like Rock4Life, with music and fun and, by the by, you convey the message that people have to take care when having sex, and that they should use condoms, at least if you don’t have a steady partner.”
Naturally, AIDS-HIV checks are high on Livnat’s list of preventive measures.
“If you don’t have a regular partner, you should have a test, and then you are free to enjoy yourself, but not before” he stresses.
“And it’s a good idea to get yourself checked out, and have your prospective partner do that too, before you get into a relationship.
Those are our principal messages – tests and condoms.”
While Livnat says these are cardinal to a healthy sex life he is not looking to scare anyone into taking precautions.
“The way to prevent HIV-AIDS is not through demonization of the carriers, or creating a stigma relating to HIV. Rock4Life is mainly about using condoms and undertaking periodic testing. We want to get that across very clearly.”
There is evidently a need to keep up the preventive guard.
“Sadly there has been an increase in the number of HIV-AIDS cases in Israel in recent years,” says Livnat. “Last year there were 495 new cases, and there was around the same number in 2012 too. In previous years there were less.”
However, things are improving on the preventive front, especially around this time of the year.
“We have seen that more people are coming to us to be tested. We have a test center in Tel Aviv and one in Beersheba, and we see the numbers of people getting themselves checked out rises around the time of World AIDS Day, and the event we put on. But, you know, the whole business of awareness is a long process.”
There is a cultural impediment to Livnat’s work, too.
“There is this Israeli mentality of ‘it won’t happen to me.’ And there is a lot of ignorance over the possibility of getting HIVAIDS.
People think their prospective partner ‘looks clean’ or ‘looks OK,’ but looks don’t count for anything. Someone can be ill and not have any outwards symptoms.
So you can’t say that someone looks OK.
The only way to be certain is to have a test.”
Presumably it also helps to encourage people to undergo testing when the procedure is carried out anonymously, and quickly.
“People can come to our center, on Hanatziv Street in Tel Aviv, and you can get your result, which is 99.9 percent accurate, within half an hour,” continues Livnat. “That significantly shortens the waiting time and the period of doubt. Research around the world has indicated that anonymity and rapid results are very important factors in people deciding to have themselves checked out for HIV-AIDS.”
There will also be a mobile unit stationed in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Worlds AIDS Day, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
It appears that the rock entertainer fraternity is also becoming more aware of the need for HIV-AIDS prevention, with plenty of new names of this year’s roster compiled by comedian Idan Alterman.
“Si Hyman didn’t perform last year, and neither did Corinne Alal or Dan Toren,” Livnat notes. “We really appreciate the fact that all these performers are helping us, and all for free.”
Music is clearly a good vehicle for conveying such an important message, and so is humor. This year’s program also features a comic slot at the Camel Comedy Club in Tel Aviv, with Alterman, longtime partner in laughs Avi Greinik and Yonatan Barak in the standup lineup.
“Telling jokes is always a good way of getting people’s attention,” says Livnat, “as long as you get the right message across.”
Performances will all begin at 8 p.m., and are free and open to the public. For more information about Rock4Life and the Israel AIDS Task Force: www.facebook.com/IsraelAIDStaskforce; www.aidsisrael.org.il.