Gabrielle Giffords, who in 2007 became Arizona’s first Jewish congresswoman, was shot in the head Saturday outside of a Tucson, Ariz. supermarket. As of Saturday afternoon, the congresswoman had survived surgery, and was being transferred to an intensive care unit.
The attack took place while Giffords, a Democrat, was meeting with constituents in her home district. She had been sworn into her third term on January 5.
According to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, 18 people were injured during the incident. At least five people were killed, including Federal Court Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, President Obama said during a televised statement from the White House. A congressional aide was reportedly also among the victims.
The suspected gunman, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, has reportedly been taken into custody.
Giffords, 40, is a member of the powerful Committee on Armed Services, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Science and Technology. A third-generation Arizonan, she is part of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog and New Democrat coalitions.
She is a vocal advocate for renewable energy, particularly solar energy, and has said improving security along the U.S.-Mexico border is among her top priorities. She is also a supporter of Israel, and is considered a safe pro-Israel vote in the House.
Giffords’ Jewish roots run deep. As the Forward reported back in 2006, her paternal grandfather, the son of a Lithuanian rabbi, was born Akiba Hornstein. He changed his name, first to Gifford Hornstien and later to Gifford Giffords, apparently to shield himself from anti-Semitism out West.
The congresswoman is the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. In 2001, then a state senator, Giffords traveled to Israel on a trip sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. It was that trip, she said, that solidified her connection to her Jewish roots and her commitment to living as a Jew.
“I was raised not to really talk about my religious beliefs,” Giffords said, in an interview with Jewish Woman magazine. ”Going to Israel was an experience that made me realize there were lots of people out there who shared my beliefs and values and spoke about them openly.”
Giffords is an active member of Congregation Chaverim, a Reform synagogue in Tucson, where she said Rabbi Stephanie Aaron is her spiritual mentor. She is also among five members of Congress to serve on United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
The congresswoman has been married since 2007 to NASA astronaut and Navy pilot Mark E. Kelly.
The 112th Congress opened last week with a reading of the U.S. Constitution. According to CNN, Giffords was assigned to read the First Amendment, which affirms “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”