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. bin laden

    all kufaars to hell

    January 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  2. bin laden

    all kuffars to hell.

    January 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  3. wormstooth

    I am the Lord, thy God, and I say unto you, shut up, you idiots!

    January 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  4. PAUL

    I do not think it was because she was a jew or any other person, the shooter did it for reasons that even he was not clear on, he probabley does not know why he did it, a very confused person, sad,

    January 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  5. John R

    Hair splitting appears too often in these postings. Perhaps it would be appropriate to call her a "child of God". If she chose to call herself Jewish, so be it. The God of Ambraham did not create these divisions and denominations, man did that themselves. There is only one God to those who believe in Him.

    January 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Matt

    Hmmm, let's see what else we can use to get more viewers....(snap's fingers) I got it! Lets talk about her religion too. Maybe the stupid moronic readers and viewers will make a connection and put 2 & 2 together and jump to conclusions! Yeah! This is gonna get me a promotion!

    January 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  7. Dave S

    what a bunch of LOVING individuals.
    Castrating, execution, on and on..... when is it going to STOP !!!!
    Killing does not right a wrong

    January 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  8. alabamarama

    “If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it."

    Kind of a dumb and small-minded thing to say.

    January 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  9. Aug. 2 1934 Berlin

    Connect the dots: Tea Party Depression Era America = Nazi Party Depression Era Germany.

    January 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • faye

      amen.Hitler was no scholar either, Ms Palin.

      January 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  10. LizardMom

    As a TBI expert (Traumatic Brain Injury), I just hope she comes out of all this without any deficits. I do hope her fatih-of-choice minister/priest/rabbi has come to sit & pray with her. I'm Catholic and I am praying for her. Enough of all this other nonsense, people! Get down on your knees and ask God forgiveness for your stupidity.

    January 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • L

      If you were a traumatic brain injury expert, you would know that she WILL have deficits. There's no hoping for no deficits. Hopefully, they are manageable.

      January 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  11. Jesus

    Are you kidding me? I'm reading these comments and I feel sick to my stomach. The assasination of words towards each other is no better then putting a gun to somebody's head and pulling the trigger.

    Let me remind you of something: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU! It's not about religion and you can speculate all you want about the motives. The fact is numerous people were shot and killed yesterday. It's the senseless killing of a nine year old along with others who just came out to have honest discussion about how we can make this country better. That's the fact. Everything else is your opinion. That is my opinion with facts to back it up.

    January 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • jraines

      Thank you.

      January 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  12. DD

    I could care less what religion she is or isn't, this crime is a crime of hate regardless. And I will call it terrorism.
    Some sects still only accept matrilineal Jews because before science made DNA ID possible, you visually knew at birth who someone's mother was.

    January 9, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  13. cbr

    The bottom line is this Congresswoman who tried to work with everyone in both political parties. She had the potential to become a uniting factor in the House.

    The statements about her religion are interesting. Some comments do show that we have a long way to go in this country to have respect for all religions. on a day when religion does not count, people are debating religion. The truth is we all want this young woman to survive and to return to Congress.

    January 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  14. Bodady

    "nuff said" We are all His children!!!!!!!!!

    January 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  15. Jack

    I wonder what kind of a Jew she is. The orthodox Jews are generally God-fearing people while many other Jews are basically athiests.

    January 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • faye

      stop wondering and get an education.Your comment makes it obvious that you need one.

      January 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Jack--If one believes in a god, why would one fear it?

      January 10, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  16. Rich

    Seeking some community in a time of stress, I went through these comments. I find a raging debate on whether Congresswoman Giffords is or is not really Jewish (she is – she was married by a rabbi), a gentleman announcing that since she is Jewish she won't go to the Lord in Heaven, a diatribe about Palestinian rights, and few sensible comments sprinkled in between. People, it's this rush to have "label" a person that's creating our toxic climate. Christian. Jew. Liberal. Conservative. Who freaking cares anymore? Six people – including a 9-year old girl – are dead at the hands of a loony tune with a semi-automatic weapon. Congresswoman and others are fighting for their lives. We are Americans. Period. And if we don't start respecting each other we can look forward to many more horrific events such as this. L'chaim (to life).

    January 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Liora

      Agree with your sentiment, but not the specifics. Being married by a rabbi doesn't make one Jewish in any stream of Judaism. It makes one married by a rabbi. You brought it up, so it's fair to address your statement.

      January 9, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Rich is right however he should have gone one step forward. We are more than just Americans, we are humans

      January 10, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  17. getreal

    Ms Gifford is fighting for her life, who cares about her religion, which is one of the major result for all the violence in the world. MY GOD IS BETTER THAN YOUR GOD........................................THERE IS ONLY ONE ENERGY THAT MOVES THE HEART ALL CREATURES TO BEAT!


    January 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Anglican

      And in all capital letters. Wow.

      January 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  18. Hughie

    Giffords was born in Tucson, Arizona, to Gloria Kay (née Fraser) and Spencer J. Giffords. Her father is the first cousin of director Bruce Paltrow, whose daughter is actress Gwyneth Paltrow.[51] Giffords was raised in a mixed religious environment by her Jewish father and Christian Science-practicing mother. She has identified herself solely with Judaism since 2001, belonging to Congregation Chaverim, a Reform synagogue, in Tucson.[2][1] She is Arizona's first Jewish Congresswoman.[52][53] She married U.S. Navy Captain and astronaut Mark E. Kelly on November 10, 2007. He was the space shuttle's pilot on STS-108 and STS-121, and commander of STS-124[54] and future flight STS-134 (scheduled for April 2011), the penultimate flight of the space shuttle program before its planned end in 2011.*

    Source: Wikipedia

    January 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  19. USAPatriot

    Argue about whether or not she's Jewish all you want. The people to ask, really, are the Israeli's...those who run the Jewish State. They have very specific requirements as to who is Jewish and who is not, which all relates to the ability to (a) immigrate into Israel and (b) acquire Israeli citizenship. The two are not synonymous. Research it and find out.

    January 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  20. PFC

    Why is her "jewishness" a relevant issue here?

    January 9, 2011 at 2:12 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.