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. Mrhoss

    A jew ,they should give the guy a medal

    January 10, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Given your poor sentence construction, I might not understand what you are trying to say, but *if* you are saying the shooter should be given a medal for shooting a jew, then you have just posted the most dis-picabable comment I've ever read here, and you should feel the utmost shame.

      January 10, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  2. Bruce

    Just because something exists does not mean it is legitimate. Traditional Judaism (what many call orthodox) has existed for thousands of years. Such Judaism does not take notice of differences in observance or degree of religious identification. All who are members of the Jewish nation are Jewish and those who have formally accepted the tenets of the Jewish faith are counted as members of the Jewish nation. Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and so forth are reactionary movements that arose to make Jewish people seem more like their Christian brethren in Europe. They are man made and their mere existence does not confer upon them any legitimacy whatsoever. (I could call a rose a dandelion but it would still be a rose.)

    The truth sometimes hurts, but it does not mean we should not accept it. Unfortunately, as a society we have been conditioned to shun what is not pleasant even if it is the truth. Thus, continues the American departure from a pillar of truth to a no-man's land of moral relativism. Those who stand for nothing fall for anything. If as Americans, we lose our footing, we have lost our mandate for existence.

    January 10, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  3. stonedwhitetrash

    If the Jews had not killed Jesus there would not be any Christianity all christians should love the Jews.

    January 10, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      We do! Even though the actual crucifixion was carried out by Gentiles (the Romans)!

      January 27, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  4. sam kohen

    Actually Barry Goldwater, also from Arizona, the 1964 GOP nominee for President, was also half-Jewish and at his funeral he had a Rabbi officiating.

    January 9, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  5. sam kohen

    Actually Barry Goldwater,also from Arizona, the 1964 GOP nominee for president was half-Jewish and never denied it. When he passed away there was a Rabbi officiating at his funeral.

    January 9, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  6. Nancy

    I think this guy was driven more by his obsession with "brainwashing", "illiteracy", and the great likelihood that he was probably a just a burgeoning paranoid schizophrenic than with any antisemitism.

    January 9, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  7. Reality

    Our War on Terror and Aggression:

    An update (or how we are spending or how we have spent the USA taxpayers’ money to eliminate global terror and aggression)

    -Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed as of 8/10/2010 mostly due the Shiite and Sunni suicide bombers.

    – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror,

    – Sa-dd-am, his sons and major he-nchmen have been deleted. Sa-dd-am's bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. Kuwait was saved.

    – Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we are in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

    – Libya has become almost civil. Recently Libya agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the victims of their terrorist activities. Apparently this new reality from an Islamic country has upset OBL and his “cra-zies” as they have thre-atened Libya. OBL sure is a di-sgrace to the world especially the Moslem world!!! Or is he???

    – North Korea is still u-ncivil but is contained.

    – Northern Ireland is finally at peace.

    – The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful. And unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “squ-are one”. And this significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!

    – Bin La-d-en has been cornered under a rock in Western Pakistan since 9/11.

    – Fa-na–tical Islam has basically been contained to the Middle East but a wall between India and Pakistan would be a plus for world peace. Ditto for a wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    – Timothy McVeigh was exe-cuted. Terry Nichols will follow soon.

    – Eric Ru-dolph is spending three life terms in pri-son with no par-ole.

    – Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kaczynski, the "nuns" from Rwanda, and the KKK were all dealt with and either eliminated themselves or are being punished.

    – Islamic Sudan, Dar-fur and So-malia are still terror hot spots.

    – The terror and tor-ture of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait were ended by the proper application of the military forces of the USA and her freedom-loving friends. Ra-dovan Karadzic was finally captured on 7/23/08 and is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the law of war – charges related to the 1992-1995 civil war that followed Bosnia-Herzegovina's secession from Yugoslavia.

    – And of course the bloody terror brought about by the Ja-panese, Na-zis and Co-mmunists was with great difficulty eliminated by the good guys.

    And now we will deal with this crazy nut and those who sold him the gun and the ammunition.

    January 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  8. Reality

    Once a day WARNING for new commentators:

    • The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

    • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

    Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

    Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".

    "Raison's Filter Fiber© (joking about the copyright)
    1. Here's my latest list – this seems like a good spot to set this down, as nobody's posting much on this thread.....
    bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to post that wonderful argument:
    Many, if not most are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination and add any words I have missed as a comment (no one has done this yet)
    – I found some but forgot to write them down. (shrugs).
    c-um.........as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, etc.
    sp-ic........as in disp-icable (look out Sylvester the cat!)
    ho-mo...whether ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, etc.
    t-it.........const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, etc.
    tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, (an unexpected one)
    va-g....as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant
    ar-se....yet "ass" is not filtered!
    jacka-ss...but ass is fine lol
    p-is.....as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, etc.
    o ficti-tious, repeti-tion, competi-tion.
    There are more, so do not assume that this is complete.
    okay words that you might not expect to be filtered....!!!

    Here's a word to add to the banned list: co-co-on
    whether it's c-oc, or co-on, this is ridiculous"

    January 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • kevinsteele


      January 10, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • kevinsteele

      OK OK I think I get it but how come it doesn't work when Obama is so much like Osama.

      I guess they like Osama.

      January 10, 2011 at 12:15 am |

      Dear Reality,
      you of all people ought to know how to spell hom-ose-xual correctly, after all they are now a projected large part of the military budget.

      January 10, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  9. muti

    anybody that interested in learning the difference between authentic Judaism and reform Judaism should read the book called one people 2 worlds written by a prominent reform rabbi and prominent orthodox rabbi extremely informative

    January 9, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  10. kevster


    January 9, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Kim

      Actually, she is a human being first.

      January 10, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  11. kevinsteele

    What it all boils down to is that Gabby had a utilitarian philosophy and did that which was in her own best interest.

    January 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  12. Donja Luvitt

    Politics have become theater, and while everyones stares in aah at this disaster, the forces of socialism pic our pockets. No group has ever benefitted more from disaster than the socialist democrats of America. Regardless of their patronizing lip service of sorrow, they will be the winners at the end of the race. tragedy bedamned; it's always about politics.

    January 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  13. kevinsteele

    Gabrielle Giffords was a supporter or abortion rights. There is a strange irony here. Let me explain it this way:


    January 9, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  14. Farrukh

    Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is accusing Israel of creating an apartheid system in the West Bank and Gaza. The charge comes in his new book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

    The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been deeply involved in Middle East policies for the past three decades. As president he negotiated the Camp David Accords–which secured a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt.

    In his new book, Jimmy Carter writes, "Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."

    January 9, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  15. Rayna Moise

    Who cares what she is!!!! You are talking about someone fighting for her life!!!! Practice acts of random kindness!
    GET A LIFE!!!

    January 9, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  16. mabel floyd

    God bless and keep her. we all must find our own path and she is blessed to have found hers. she is a role model for all of us. she does not push her faith–she lives it. i pray we learn to govern our speech and learn to care about others.

    January 9, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  17. chewboi

    to hell with what happened to this woman...all that is really important is who is a jew and who is not...right

    and i agree with the statement that she should have never been elected for making racist statements ...if you want something done get a jew ...if any one but a jew said that ...all hell would break loose

    but back to what is important here ...who da jew

    January 9, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  18. Rayna Moise

    Who cares what she is!!! You are speaking of someone fighting for her life!!! Practice acts of random kindness please!!
    GET A LIFE!!!

    January 9, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  19. tee top

    Reform Jews are as Jewish as me. And i'm Cathlic. everybody knows that.

    January 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  20. Scott B

    Akiba Hornstein = Gif Giffords? Oy!

    January 9, 2011 at 9:14 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.