March 10, 2000

THE headlines are saying she died of shame. But it is we who should be covered in shame we who have pretended for more than a decade that AIDS is not a Jewish problem and never could be.

We have been brutally proved wrong. AIDS has robbed us of a figure who represented everything that was best about Israel. Ofra Haza was the heart of our national culture. She recreated the music of the Middle East as a modern force, she made the poetry of rabbis into the stuff of raves and nightclubs, she won over Hollywood and still kept her faith with God.

Israel was proud to have her as our heart. And now that heart has stopped beating. If Ofra had sought treatment during the early stages of her HIV infection, she might have been granted many more years of life.

AIDS is incurable but the illness which precedes it can be fought successfully, if not indefinitely. Many people have remarked wistfully that, if she had been able to come out as an HIV sufferer, Ofra could have done as much to help fellow victims as Magic Johnson, the US basketball star who has faced the illness and the jibes without flinching.

Then she might be alive now . . . as Johnson is. But Israel is not the US even though we are lucky to have one of the most brilliant AIDS pioneers in the world, Dr Zvi Bentwich, at the Hebrew University Medical School and the Kaplan Medical Centre in Rehovot.

No, Israel is a nation in denial. We deny our people can be slaughtered by this human plague, and we deny the official evidence that up to 3,000 of our people could have the virus. In the aftermath of the revelations about Ofra’s death, tests at Tel Aviv’s AIDS Task Force have doubled.

Medics there believe the true number of HIV sufferers in Israel could be 12,000. We deny that people need education and that people need condoms. Israel’s government spends less than 5p a head on telling people how to avoid the virus most European countries spend £1 and Health Minister Shlomo Benizri will not even permit condoms to be pictured in AIDS awareness adverts.

“We are not dealing here with stupid people in some Third World country,” Rabbi Benizri said last year. But as the tragedy of Ofra Haza shows, it is not only the illiterate poor who die of AIDS. Ofra’s real illness was a secret, hidden even from the hospital staff who cared for her in her last days. It seems to many there is nothing to be done now, except to pray for her soul.

There is more we can do. We can pray for all the sufferers from AIDS and HIV, not only in Israel and Britain but all over the world. We can pray that Rabbi Benizri and his pious colleagues wake up to the fact that their righteousness is killing good people. And we can pray with a growing scientific certainty that our prayers will have a measurable effect.

We can be sure that we are not merely sending idle hopes into the void because prayer is being proven to possess a truly great power. The latest investigation into the power of prayer will be launched by British evangelist Gerald Coates on Sunday as part of BBC1’s The Heart Of The Matter investigating two studies by the Templeton Foundation.

The first carefully-regulated experiment, in Kansas in 1988, tracked the health of 990 heart patients who were prayed for by 75 Christians for four weeks. The 990 showed significantly better health than others who were not being prayed for in the experiment. Ten years later, the foundation tried it again in San Francisco, with similar results.

Coates believes pray plays a far bigger part in our lives than we guess. “It is worth remembering,” he says, “that a much larger percentage of people pray than go to church. “I pray daily. Sometimes hourly. Sometimes all the time. And I don’t go to synagogue nearly enough. Prayer is at the root of my character, conventional behaviour isn’t. I am not surprised that scientists can prove the sick get well when prayers are showered on them.

One serious problem when we pray for loved ones who are ill is fear. We are frightened that the worst will happen. Our minds fill with dark thoughts. We worry, we can become depressed. And if we focus on negative images when we pray, our prayers might have completely the wrong effect.

If we admit that science proves our good thoughts can help others, then we have to face the fact that bad thoughts could harm them. When you offer a prayer for someone’s recovery, hold a picture in your mind of how they were when they were healthy. Enjoy that image and pray it will hold true in the future.

Visualise the infection being washed away, leaving a pure, healthy body. See happiness in your mind. See hope and wholeness. Make your prayer one of light and laughter. Your prayers are free, and they become stronger as you practise.

Be generous with your prayers. Offer them to God for people you don’t know as well as those who are close to you people you don’t like as well as those you love.

Say a prayer for someone you’ll never meet. Someone your life might never touch again. Someone who perhaps cannot bear to admit, even to a doctor or a spouse, that the HIV virus might have taken a grip.

Pray for strength. Pray for fresh health. Pray for peace of mind. And pray that Israel gains the courage to face up to AIDS.

Uri Geller’s novels Dead Cold and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is published by Element at £20.

Visit him at and e-mail him at [email protected]


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