Mourning a Rabbi
Rabbi Cynthia Culpeper, 43, believed to be the first pulpit rabbi to announce she was diagnosed with AIDS, died on Monday after a 10-year battle with the disease.
At the time of her diagnosis in 1995, she was rabbi of Agudath Israel in Montgomery, Ala.
A convert from Catholicism, she continued as the full-time rabbi there until early 1997 and then moved to Birmingham, where she was receiving cutting-edge care through the AIDS research clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
She became a rabbi at large at the school, teaching classes and, for a time, speaking to Jewish communities nationally about AIDS. In 2000, she became the first female rabbi to lead religious services in Poland, conducting High Holiday services at the liberal congregation known as Beit Warszawa....
[A rabbi] remembered how Culpeper appeared at his congregation one Shabbat evening, a Catholic high school student with a report to write about Judaism. She asked him questions after the service, returned the next week with more questions, then came back the third week with one question – how to become Jewish.
One of the nuns at Culpeper's school later met with him. Instead of telling him to stay away, she said, "I know she will not make a good Catholic, so make a good Jew out of her."
Seriously, this is a beautiful story, a love story of religion. Heartbreaking at the end, though. But you've got to love the ecumenism of it. Well, if you love ecumenism....