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. joe p

    funny, the killer was jewish and went to the same sinigod as the killee. Somthing you won't read in the MSM. I wonder why.
    the writer of this blog is an idiot

    January 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  2. explonentialdotcom

    Jesus, how sad these politicians need to pretend to be more religious than they are to garner support. I find lying to be more repulsive than holding a faith...


    January 10, 2011 at 11:03 am |

    just one CUTE BLONDE little GOP TELEPATH CNN? -lay you odds they keep a lot of them inland IN UTAH.

    January 10, 2011 at 10:10 am |

    CNN you are SO unfair, schlafzug gut.

    January 10, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  5. Methuslem

    Atheists, Islamists, Feminists and Gays working hand in hand to destroy the Judeo-Christian world!? This is nothing new - let them fight dying. Blessed be the souls of the victims

    January 10, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  6. Todd Beaucoudray

    So one can only be Jewish if the mother is the Jewish but not the father? Doesn't procreation start with the man? Never made sense to me. If your ancestors are Jewish, then aren't you? If she wants to acknowledge herself as a Jew, then let her.

    January 10, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  7. joe p

    oh well, maybe she got what she desrved for encouraging the haulocaust of the palestinean people and the ongong genocide the U.S. government contiues in the mideast

    January 10, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  8. joe p

    is anyone really surprised. This is what happens when the government screws the people over and over again. look in the mirrror crooked politicians you reap what you sew.

    January 10, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  9. Kim

    FACT>>>>> Human beings died in a random act of violence created by another human being who is clearly mentally ill.
    FACT>>>>> It matters not what religious background they may have.
    FACT>>>>> What does matter is how people respond from this point on to help grieving families deal with their loss.
    FACT>>>>>What also matters is how we deal with our anger and sadness concerning the devastating truths of that day.

    January 10, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  10. Sally Li

    Isn't Loughner a Jewish name? The individual certainly is not a practicing religionist, but ethnically, it seems as though he may be of Jewish background. The victims in this all seem like beautiful people, whatever their nationality or background or recent gravitation to one faith or another. The perpetrator seems to have disowned his own background, whatever that may be.

    January 10, 2011 at 7:01 am |
  11. Cohen

    Maybe being jewish helps her get elected, you do hear a lot about the Jewish vote. People use religion for purposes of promoting themselves too. Think about it.

    January 10, 2011 at 6:36 am |
  12. EJ

    This shooting is a terrible tragedy. It doesn't matter what the religious affiliation of the victims are. Nor that of the shooter. Why are so many of you arguing over what the definition of 'Jewish' is? This idea that anyone not a Jew is a GENTILE, (such a dehumanizing sound to that word ...) is a problem for me. It's kind of like the 'N' word. Maybe Jewish people, who so often cry discrimination, need to look in the mirror and examine this word and the theology and thought process that goes with it. I have many Jewish ancestors but have never been religious myself. Which brings me to my next rant, guns don't drive individuals to kill people or engage in mass slaughter, only religion is powerful enough to do that.

    January 10, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • Sally Li

      ONLY religion? Even a gorilla taught how to use a weapon would be able to perpetrate a massacre – and gorillas don't have the mental capacity for religion, as far as anyone knows. The perpetrator in this case was an atheist, from all indications available. Religion has caused more than its share of violent episodes in human history, but many motives for violence have absolutely nothing to do with religion in any way. Some of these motives are much more deep-seated than religious zeal, and others have nothing to do with any rational train of thought – and that seems to be the case in this instance, unless there is something that we are not being informed about.

      January 10, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  13. Neil

    Let's look at the reality – lives were lost – that's what matters most!

    January 10, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  14. Brian

    The professional victim strikes again

    January 10, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  15. Al

    It's been a rough day, people! Give it a rest, take some time to offer good thoughts to those who lost some of their loved ones today. Find some peace in your hearts by observing some silence if you don't have anything good to say. Let's focus on what we can do individually to better our nation.

    January 10, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  16. Freedom rider

    americans loves their guns...now some innocent perople pay cause americans are gun nuts.. so sad

    January 10, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  17. Adam Habib Dallas, TX

    I am a Muslim and I am hoping she will recover. Who cares about her religion. It is personal anyways. I hope she recovers and country tones down for better.

    January 10, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  18. Freedom rider

    americans love their guns and their right to bare arms...so this is what that have to live with , with having a stupid gun mentality country!!..

    January 10, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  19. laura blush

    wouldn't it be nice to separate religion and politics? was she a better politician because her name was changed from hornstein.

    i doubt it.

    January 10, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  20. Remford

    Unless her faith has been established as a reason for the attack, the extent to which CNN seems to rely upon passing-off such trivial data as news to be able to churn content is ludicrous. The same can be said of the 9 year-old who perished – her 9/11 birth date has simply no relevance to the tragedy – yet CNN makes headlines out of it.

    If CNN were to apply a Cronkite standard and say nothing when there was nothing relevant to say, it would be a one-page blog rather than a so-called "news" network.

    January 10, 2011 at 1:01 am |
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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.