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. zev

    Living like a Jew doesn't make you Jewish. She was a wonderful women and I wish her the best, but if her mother isn't Jewish, she is not Jewish. Some reformed Jews like to think otherwise but half of them aren't Jewish either. They have undermined what it means to be a Jew. For thousands of years the Jews got slaughtered for not bowing bow down to the cross, for just being Jewish you got spat at, and now after four thousand years some people calling themselves reform ( and conservative too) decide they are going to redefine what it means to be Jewish. I feel bad for them, their children and anybody else they spread their views to. I was in school to become a reformed rabbi and thank G-D i somehow bumped into AISH.com.

    January 9, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  2. alan

    You are all losers. religion and and a persons need to define themselves to be a superior or more righteous than others is, if you think about it, more the work of the devil than of god. In the end, all humans will be wiped out like bugs dues to our own egos, and rightly so, Enjoy your fleeting self-righteous tenure.

    January 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  3. Tom

    She is a racist. Unreal how she got elected after making such a disgusting comment. may as well have said "If ya want good govt. don't vote for a Goy."

    January 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  4. Tom

    Racist $&%* deserved to get shot. Too bad the nut shot other innocent people too.

    January 9, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  5. Mailman

    She was working for the people. You know, the ones who get stuck with all the debt from payoffs to big business and the rich. No good deed goes unpunished. Truly.

    January 9, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  6. Tom

    remember when the GOOP got all riled up when Sotomayor made similar comments.
    I guess the GOOP is OK w/ racist Jewish women?

    January 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  7. Boris Gelfand

    Jewish or no Jewish. It should not matter in the USA. She is Congresswoman. She was elected by THE PEOPLE.
    It is a tragedy – one sick person can get a gun and start killing people. Shame on us...

    January 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  8. me!

    if you want it done right, ask a jewish woman. if that isnt a supremacistic comment, what is? would anyone allow a political hopeful to say, "if you want it done right, ask a white man?" this woman is bats.

    January 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Sally Li

      I think she was joking when she said that. It's obvious from the context. Humorlessness doesn't leave much room for humor, and that is unfortunate, because good humor is something that keeps people sane.

      January 10, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  9. Blackbeered

    Now that we're finally talking about the "elephant in the room", let there be no doubt that the reasons why all the attention is focused on a simple US Congresswoman ... who survived ... and so little about those who died are twofold: [1] the Jews control the media and [2] federal bureaucrats perceive themselves to be superior to those who pay their bills and elect them.

    January 9, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Sally Li

      Unbelievable leap of logic! The media, whether Jewish controlled or not, has tons of information readily available about any member of Congress, and labors under no restrictions as to what they can or cannot say about any one of them. A child or another private individual is a different matter; there are legal aspects of family to be considered. A Federal judge – in this case, raises questions as to whether there is a retaliatory motive or conspiracy, and in turn raises other questions as to whether or not it might be prudent to withhold some information until further notice. The issue of Jewish control of media has nothing to do with the way this was reported. A member of Congress is among the highest ranking members of the legislative branch of the Federal Government, on a par with a Supreme Court justice or President or Vice-President or Cabinet member. A Federal judge is among the second-tier members of the Federal judiciary. Also, there is much more of timely interest which can be said about a person who is dramatically fighting for her life following an injury which can only be described as grave and life-threatening, than there is to be said about the fact that someone has died.

      January 10, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  10. Brian

    "I'm sorry, but according to some Conservative rabbis, and all Reform rabbis, one with a Jewish father is in fact Jewish."

    Yes, theology is a joke but you can be an atheist and still be Jewish. Being Jewish is a philosophical quest – a state of mind. Some of the greatest Jews – Einstein, Freud, etc were non religious Jews.

    January 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  11. ohplease

    That is totally correct, jewish women are elegantly agressive and have enough brass to cut through the crap and get to the finish line. This is being said about Congresswoman Giffords in this blog and I for one am delighted to read that she is the "get out of my way" type ! The ONE thing america things is WOMEN like her, women who gain power and control, and execute it ! I SALUTE the lady and am praying for her recovery, may god bless her that she comes away from this fully healed. GOD BLESS YOU Congress Woman Giffords, people DO care about you and are praying for you, we wish you very well and keep on fighting, THIS IS THE FIGHT OF FIGHTS YOU ARE NOW FIGHTING.. fight on Soldier .. amen

    Florida woman in power 😉

    January 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  12. Dee O.

    It's too bad that so many Jewish people feel compelled to abandon their family names, and take new names that sound "WASP" (white anglo-saxon protestant). Apparently this is what transpired in the cawse of Ms. Giffords grandfather (or great-grandfather) who changed his last name from Hornstein to Giffords. Gifford/ s is a name from Scottish ancestry, I believe. To take a surname that reflects a heritage that is completely different from your own heritage is misleading, to say the least. Obviously it was done because Ms. Giffords ancester felt that there was a lot of anti-Jewish prejudice that might hold him back in life. One would hope that we, as a society ahve gotten beyond that sort of prejudice by now, but, judging from some of the comments on this page, apparently we have not made much progress in eradicating anti-Jewish sentments. Consequently, I imagine that some Jewish people will continue to change their names, until they feel that it is safe to "come out of the (religion) closet.

    January 9, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Dee O: It is misleading. And sad. My great grandfather did the same and I regret it somewhat. But I find it funny that I now have a Scottish name. I competely understand their reasons for changing the name though. It is misleading but with a benevolent purpose. It's done so that their family integrates into society better, or is not subject to the bad feeling that they have experienced before. Not everyone has the strength to fight prejudice head on, especially when they have a family to think about. So I don't blame those who have changed their name to a more "acceptable" or commonplace name for their and their family's sake.

      January 10, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  13. Sevres Blue

    Really, was she shot because she was JEWISH? Seriously? This is shoddy journalism, if it's trying to be passed off as journalism at all.

    January 9, 2011 at 7:31 pm |


    January 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  15. pippin

    Let us Prey: gun homicides per country per 10,000 population
    Canada 0.76
    Australia 0.44
    France 0,44
    Germany 0,22
    England/wales 0.07
    USA 7.07
    Who says gun control doesn't work? Idiot!

    January 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ pippin


      January 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ pippin

      Here – I found your source.... http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/2/214.full.pdf It's from a 1998 publication of the British International Journal of Epidemiology 1998;27:214-221. It's an interesting read, however dated, statistically flawed and biased. It is not a valid, verifiable longitudinal study.

      "Response rate"
      Thirty-six (78%) of the 46 countries provided complete data; 4 (9%) countries sent incomplete data; and the remaining
      6 (13%) countries did not reply. Mexico is included in the 36 countries even though it did not report on firearm deaths for
      which intentionality could not be determined, because firearm deaths of undetermined intentionality represent on average
      <8% of the total firearm mortality of each country. Twenty-six (96%) of the 27 High Income countries and 10 (53%) of the 19
      Upper Middle Income countries with populations exceeding one million are included in our study. Eighty-three per cent of the 36 countries provided data for 1993 or 1994, and the remaining countries provided data for 1990, 1991, 1992, or 1995 (Table 1). The 36 countries in this study have a combined population of 1.2 billion people.

      This is the problem with statistics. You can make them say anything you want them to. And it's done – all – the time.

      January 10, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  16. mrrror

    Her being part Jewish may in fact be relevant since it is being reported that Loughner may be linked to anti-immigration anti-Semitic hatergroup American Renaissance.

    January 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  17. Myra

    Why is the religion of a Congresswoman more important than the life of the 9 years old kid, who died there at the sccene? And nobody talks about the lives of the 6 people who died in this massacre. Is it really an important subject when so many others are dead and a dozen of other people are critically wounded, just like her? And honestly, I don't think that Jewsih women are the ONLY ones having things done, as the article quotes her. But I hope she and the wounded will get well. Peace!

    January 9, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Blackbeered

      Well said.

      January 9, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  18. jen

    Whay does EVERYTHING have to be about being Jewish? Sheesh, give it a rest.

    January 9, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  19. chantal

    Amazed by some of the ignorance in the comments, ie about gun control. Why not just DO THE MATH – when guns are easily accessed, suicides and homicides increase. SImple as that.
    A friend of mine texted me a day before the massacre from Arizona to say how disturbed she was that an individual is only required an 8 hour course to attain/carry a concealed weapon.
    It may be of interest to some to go to this statistics page, which rates crime rates in the different countries of this world:

    Regarding the issue of Gifford's heritage, all that matters in this case in my opinion, is her nationality. She's an american, and gun possession and access laws need to change in her country of birth, where she is a proud citizen, generously serving her people.

    January 9, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  20. Mark From Middle River

    It is amazing. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime. A entire crisis newstory .......

    .... And no one blamed George W. Bush.

    Much props' for the liberals for finally getting past this phase.

    Then again....... We republicans ... We didn't blame Obama for this.

    Maybe folks, we are in someways finally growing up a bit.

    January 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      The new target is/will be Sarah Palin and The Tea Baggers...

      January 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ HAA

      One target deserves another, 'eh, Ace? So go after the most obvious, vulnerable and .. stupid opening available. Palin?
      I'll worry about the fragility of our country when these things start happening with regularity. Until then, the fault lies with the inconsistency of human design.

      January 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Let Us Prey

      I do not say she/they are deserving, just that they will be the target to replace Bush. Can you name a more likely one?

      January 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ HAA

      How about John (crocodile tears) Boehner? Day of the election he states that the vote was "not a vote of confidence in the Republican party, but a protest against the current state of politics in the U.S." On the day he assumes the position of Speaker he announces a concerted effort to repeal the new Health Care legislation... America will be over Palin soon enough – if not already. Her 'legacy' will be forgotten along with her Discovery show (canceled as of now.) The Republican agenda will be revealed for what it is – not in the interests of the general public.

      When too many folks can't feed their families or provide adequate health care for them in the face of a manufactured dearth of employment opportunities or educational availability... Then we should worry. We'll protect ourselves with guns if we have 'em, or torches and pitchforks if we don't. Dig in, my friend. You want to talk about a 'border control' problem? I'm taking my camper and going to Canada! I already have my route planned! All I want to do is farm... just a little farm... nothing expansive. Carrots. Yeah, carrots are good – and Brussel Sprouts. I hear they grow well up there. And goats. I'll bring mine with me so I don't have to poach yours....

      Or would you prefer we solve our problems here and not bother you?

      January 10, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Let Us Prey

      You and I may agree on more things I that would have otherwise thought....

      Boehner could be interesting. Up until this weekend I didn't think Palin would go away, so she's still my first pick. I think she's already dreaming of what colors she'd like for the White House, and is waiting to be crowned queen. By maybe she's done after this tragedy. If would be somewhat unfair if her downfall was "the poster" but sometimes you have take what you are given.

      Re: u, or anyone else, moving to Canada, there's lots of room and no need for goats. The health care is fine – there's lots of stories about some people not getting exactly the care they want when they want it, and there's lots of holes/inefficiencies (my wife is a nurse, so I hear all about them) but I honestly believe that pretty much everybody gets the care they need.

      But are you really ready to give up your guns?!? And whilst we're chatting, I did look at some stats (wiki) about gun violence. It appears that gun violence in Canada is way less (1/5 – 1/10?) than the US, but it's probably more cultural than due to gun laws – we're just too nice.

      January 10, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ HAA

      Want to talk about the Canadian gang problems? Nice is relative. Canada, correct me if I'm wrong – was established with the clear intent that government knows what's better for the citizens than they do. You are, and always have been, "subjects" of your government, and have little if any recourse. Same for England, same for Australia. I'll go along with your assessment of 'cultural' differences... only to the effect that America had to fight for freedom and the founders didn't (rightfully) have sufficient belief that government could remain subservient to the populace rather than a master to it. Ergo – guns. I have some. Most of us do. I'm allowed to. The government says so. And I pray I never have to use them, other than to hunt for food or for licensed personal carry when warranted.

      But I won't worry – until my government says that we're no longer allowed to have them. That will be the warning flare to me that the founders' concerns might be coming to fruition... and to start buying more ammo, carrot seeds... and goats.

      January 10, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Let Us Prey

      There are no significant gang problems where I live. A murder is a HUGE deal here.

      Re: being "subjects," this is another aspect of being nice. We achieved our independence non-violently and keep the monarchy around to keep the moms happy. Think of it as a security blanket just like religion. We are too nice to get rid of it, and it is entirely symbolic. And the curent queen (she technically is the Queen of Canada, we are not British subjects) is actually a very nice lady who has put up with a ton of personal family "stuff" and she adds some old world charm and consistency. We might feel differently if one Charlie becomes king.

      January 11, 2011 at 12:54 am |
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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.