January 9th, 2011
09:39 AM ET

Wounded Arizona congresswoman had strengthened Jewish identity

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

One detail popping up in many of the profiles of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to appear since she was shot on Saturday is that the congresswoman has increasingly come to define herself as a Jew.

Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, Giffords was the first Jewish woman from Arizona to serve in Congress. The JTA reports that Giffords made her Jewish background part of her House campaign, which saw her win in a traditionally Republican district:

“If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it,” said Giffords, a former state senator, said at the time. “Jewish women - by our tradition and by the way we were raised - have an ability to cut through all the reasons why something should, shouldn’t or can’t be done and pull people together to be successful.”

Giffords had not always identified strongly as a Jew.

According to a 2007 story in the Arizona Daily Star, she was raised in a mixed-religion home, with a Jewish father and a Christian Scientist mother. Her father explained his and his wife's approach to their children’s religious formation: "We were kind of neutral. We let them decide for themselves. That's what Gabby did.”

The Star reported that Giffords’ first visit to Israel came in 2001, on a trip sponsored by the American Jewish Committee while she was serving in the Arizona State Senate:

"It just cemented the fact that I wanted to spend more time with my own personal, spiritual growth. I felt very committed to Judaism," she said. "Religion means different things to different people. It provides me with grounding, a better understanding of who I came from."

Upon returning from Israel, Giffords introduced legislation, which became law, to help protect the claims of Arizonans seeking unpaid benefits under Holocaust-era insurance policies.

Giffords’ grandfather, the son of a Lithuanian rabbi, had changed his name from Akiba Hornstein to Gif Giffords over concerns about anti-Semitism, the Star reported. Gif Giffords had helped to found the Hillel Foundation, a Jewish group, at the University of Arizona.

Gif Giffords’ son married a Christian Scientist, but Rep. Giffords has made increasingly clear that she has come to identify as a Jew.

Her 2010 campaign web site says she is a member of Tucson’s Congregation Chaverim, a reform synagogue, and that she was recently appointed one of five congressional members to serve on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christian Science • Judaism • Politics • Violence

soundoff (262 Responses)
  1. Purchase Vpn

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    August 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  2. rider83

    What a bunch of crap! Jewish is a religion and that is all it is and has ever been! The problem with the leaders of the people of the jewish religion is they use their religion to slaughter a race of people to steal everything they own and they are more loyal to their religion then they are to any country! There is not such thing as jewish people they are just people of the jewish religion! It is no better than any other religion just more hateful and racist!! Any one who says they were born jewish is a liar as that is not possible any more they anyone is born catholic!!

    February 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  3. Samuel

    If America cannot function without Jews just shut up and do what your told. maybe some of you don't care for Hebrews but at least Their banks all got their money back first. so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    February 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  4. Rodolfo anibal correa

    Oh its really great for the USA to be ruled by Jews, Gods chosen people, just like germany before the war, the elders of zion are right on track. its so wonderful !!!

    January 27, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  5. okikooffice

    No matter who you are we are all under the Blood. That is the bottom line.
    I pray for you daily my dear congresswoman to be strengthened.

    January 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  6. Troubletotell

    Politics and religon do mix of course the news never minds making forays even if they don't belong

    January 13, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  7. Troubletotell

    The worlds first greek jew. Thank you CNN. I am glad she was pondering that. Its something every greek need to consider.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.