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. Black Squirrel

    Religion – a personal interpretation, based on cultural beliefs passed down through the generations, which are traditions & should not be used as who's view is better or correct. My daughter once said, as a very young girl, "everyone thinks their views are the right ones", which sent countries to war & caused persecutions & genocides. It is fine to follow the traditions of the past, if that is what you believe or desire, but when people starting bashing one another or their interpretations, then we sound backward & ignorant.

    January 9, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  2. bmac

    @Pray for us;

    I'm not really sure if you know a lot about foreign countries and gun control, but your so called argument is flawed at best. You said ""Gun Control" in all of these countries has proven to INCREASE the rate of violent crime." I beg to differ as for example Canada's voilent gun crime has decreased by almost 20% over the past 15 years. This is even after the new gun registry, which was introduced in 1995. So your assumption that gun control doesn't work is wrong.
    Gun crime in the US is about 4 1/2 times greater than it is in Canada. I know you love your guns and believe them to be part of your rights. Which is fine by me. If your nation wants them and holds them dear, then so be it. But do not justify gun control does not work just because you want to have any and all firearms. the US can not and will not have any meaningful gun control, because the notion of carrying and having guns is to far entrenched in your society. Thus, your crime rate with guns will always be much higher than the rest of the developed world.

    for stats look at; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CanadaViolentCrime.gif

    January 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • bmac

      @ let us pray

      January 9, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ bmac

      Sourced from the UN? Please. I reviewed all three of your 'sources' from Wiki, but they were either inconclusive or absent of supporting citations. Try my "source", the RCMP – you know those friendly guys in the fancy red uniforms? – These – are – sources –

      Annual RCMP Firearms Commissioners report. Replete with procedural statistic on how they 'monitor' their gun-owning public. Says nothing about the reduction of crime.

      Try as I might, I couldn't find statistical references on how the Canadian gun control programs has affected crime. Maybe you could point me in the right direction? All I have is NRA docu-mentation...

      " So your assumption that gun control doesn't work is wrong."
      Hardly an assumption. Here's some well-supported cites: http://www.nraila.org/Issues/FactSheets/Read.aspx?ID=78

      " I know you love your guns and believe them to be part of your rights. Which is fine by me. If your nation wants them and holds them dear, then so be it."
      First of all, it's not 'fine by (you)', or you wouldn't be so accusatory. So at least have the backbone to disagree.

      " But do not justify gun control does not work just because you want to have any and all firearms."
      It doesn't, and you didn't comprehend my earlier statement. There are very effective limitations on what we can have.

      " ... the US can not and will not have any meaningful gun control, because the notion of carrying and having guns is to far entrenched in your society."
      We already have meaningful control – unless by 'control' you mean outright prohibition. We have, thankfully, what Canada doesn't have – a legislated right to self-defense and protection of property.

      " I beg to differ as for example Canada's voilent gun crime has decreased by almost 20% over the past 15 years."
      I'd like a specific source for this claim. I couldn't find it among your citations. I looked. I really did.

      Here's one more: http://old.nationalreview.com/kopel/kopel120700.shtml

      January 9, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      here, bmac. I finally found some RCMP data for you.


      January 9, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  3. tpsnow

    Well I'm a Klingon and I like everyone.

    January 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  4. Jesus

    So are you saying that if she is not jewish she wouldn't have a bullet in her head? Or are you saying that if she is jewish a nine year would not have been killed? What's your point? You are a society that can not face the word DEATH. People will do and say anything to avoid the subject. Human beings died yesterday. Your attention span is that of doily and the compassion of a rock. Human beings died yesterday. What part of that don't you understand? I'm not coming back to save you.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  5. Raymond

    The Zionists have their puppets all over the world.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  6. michael jones

    oh ok since shes jewish this makes since
    no harm done
    move on with life

    January 9, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  7. bobby allah balls

    I wish the supermarket had been full of iranians

    January 9, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  8. muti

    the reform movement is killing the future of judiasm

    January 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • sami

      I think not. You are.

      January 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  9. Joseph

    Let us hope for a strong recovery for Congresswoman Giffords. She is truly a brave woman who loves her nation. By all accounts she tried her best to make America a better place for all. Only zealots and bigots would argue otherwise.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  10. Brian

    What a pointless and dumb conversation about being Jewish. If her mother wasn't Jewish, she could become Jewish by conversion, which is in all liklihood what she did. If she didn't, who really cares anyway. I'm Jewish and I'm proud she associates herself as a Jew. It's not like she's the Son of Sam.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  11. PAUL

    Whats it about someone being jewish that so inflames people like that?. What is it; I dont understand. They are red blooded human beings just like everybody else. They live and can die just like all of us. Why cant they be proud of who they are- JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE!!! Is it jealously?. No one should EVER be allowed to suffer the indignity of rejecting who they really are. Jesus christ was a jew for crying out loud. GET OVER IT!!!!.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  12. sohail

    I have a lots of Jewish friends and mentors BUT why bring religion at this point of time ? Why cant she just be a plain American who died serving her people? Why again we are equating this with Holocaust and then justifying 5 billion dollars aid to Israel every year and then turning blind eye to Israel's occupation and killing of innocent people on other side of the planet? I wonder Hollywood will come up with another Holocaust movie soon in this context. We should all think above religion and strive for a common good which is America as a tolerant society.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  13. muti

    reform movement is a new movement mostly people that doubt the existence of a god, they have allot of atheist congregants, what could u expect from them they will except everybody to be, Jews because they are loosing most of their movement to intermarriage ,so the only way to attract gentiles to ur reform temple is to except everybody that wants to join

    January 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  14. MNR

    Whether or not she is Jewish is irrelevant to this story. There is a fine line b/t making a point of that and going a step further and saying the shooter was anti-semitic and she was shot because OF it......of which there is no evidence.

    The constant stream of accusing the general public of being anti-semitic is intellectually dishonest and inflammatory in its own right. This same article could have just as easily been written by her school's alma mater.....making a point of where she studied. Interesting but irrelevant.

    To all of Jay's points.....he is correct. She is not a Jew. (by birth of conversion)

    My point? This event was a tragedy regardless of which religion she is, where she went to university or which pro sports teams she backs.
    May God bless her and I wish her a speedy recovery.

    January 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  15. muti

    the reform movement changes their religion every year whatever is convenient thew will follow, most reform Jews are unaffiliated with Judaism and liberal and very indifferent towards Israel

    January 9, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  16. jow

    most reform Jews believe in gay marriage and don't follow whats written in the bible ,they follow whats convenient ,i am a gentile i know the orthodox Jews they are committed to their religion and they are the future of Judaism the reform movement is disappearing to intermarriage and atheism

    January 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  17. Christine

    I'm not Jewish, but it would seem to me that this is a time to come together for support and prayer, and not one to worry about the legalities of the status of her religion/ancestry. People have been killed and wounded, people have been hurt. People are in need of support and prayer. This is what is important.

    January 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Charlie

      I couldn't agree with you more. It is so sad to read all these diatribes. It makes me even sadder to think this is what is happening to America – we ALL need to pull together. "United we stand, divided we fall."

      January 9, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  18. Newyorker

    "True Jew or not true Jew. That is the question!"

    January 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  19. PAUL

    in old testament times evening and morning was around 6 p.m. just as seven day adventist believe, the end of the first chapter of genisis and the evening and morning was the first day, at the end of the old testa ment and beginning of the new the morning was moved forward to around 6 a.m. as christ was crucified around that time, day of worship was moved from saturday to sunday as christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week in old testiment days, blood line change up was through the mother side, in new testa ment times blood line change up is through the father side , signalling the old testament ways were done away with, except the laws of the prophets ( moses ) in old testament times people rebelled against the way god wanted them to worship, so they sacrificed birds and animals for atonement, in new testament christ was sacrificed for atonement for sins ( wrong doing) in new testament time worshipping god is so much easier, jesus and the apostles was a work of love,( careing , compassionate ) the apostle summed it up correctly by saying to the saints " you have see what manner of men we have been among you "

    January 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  20. Steve

    I am very sorry but if her mother is a non-Jew then so are her children non-Jews, unless she
    (Gabrielle Giffords) had an Orthodox Conversion then she is not Jewish. Her father being Jewish has nothing to do with it. She may identifie as much as she wants to but she is still not a Jew.

    January 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • L

      According to you and some Jews. Unless you can trace your lineage back unbroken to Abraham, the validity of your own Jewishness is questionable.

      January 9, 2011 at 6:43 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.