Arizona's first Jewish Congresswoman with attitude
The lead story in the first edition of the New York Times yesterday began this way: “Unusual is a relative term in American political life, but Representative Gabrielle Giffords fits the bill: avid equestrian and motorcycle enthusiast, repository of arcane health care data, successful Democrat elected three times in a Republican Congressional district, French horn player and wife of an astronaut.” Only near the end of the article did the Times mention another unusual fact about Gabrielle Giffords: that she was the state’s first Jewish congresswoman.
Many people – indeed, many Jews – are surprised. She doesn’t “look Jewish.” “Giffords” doesn’t sound like a “Jewish name.” She’s married to an astronaut named Kelly. She told an NPR reporter a few years ago that she “grew up in a gun culture” and owned a gun herself. But regular readers of this blog would have read about her tight race to represent Arizona’s 8th congressional district, and regular visitors to the Jewish Women’s Archive website would have seen her name among the eight Jewish women elected to the House of Representatives last fall.
Gabrielle Giffords was raised by a Jewish father, the grandson of a Lithuanian rabbi named Hornstein, and a Christain Science mother who believed in letting their children decide their religious identity for themselves. After a trip to Israel in 2001, she has "felt very committed to Judaism. Religion means different things to different people," Giffords told the Arizona Star; "it provides me with grounding, a better understanding of who I came from."
To anyone reading about the congresswoman in the coverage of Saturday's tragedy, it is clear that she is unquestionably a “Jewess with Attitude.” Yes, she is pro-gun, but she is also pro-choice; she opposes laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets (and doesn’t wear one herself). She is tough on border security but critical of Arizona’s immigration law. She supported the health reform bill even though it nearly cost her the election.
At Congregation Chaverim in Tuscon (where she was a member and where she was married in 2007), over 100 people attended a Sunday morning prayer vigil. The Times reported that Rabbi Stephanie Aaron “was fighting back tears from the bema, as she talked about Ms. Giffords and asked the congregation to hold ‘Gabby's radiant smile’ in their mind as they prayed.” Not everyone who gathered at the temple was Jewish, and Rep. Gifford’s name was undoubtedly on the prayer list in countless churches around the country yesterday morning.
We can only hope that by the time the members of Congregation Chaverim gather for Friday night services, Gabrielle Giffords’ radiant smile will have returned and that she will be on her way back to where Jewesses with attitude are badly needed: the United States Congress.