Gabrielle Giffords Is in Critical Condition; Synagogue Hosts Healing Service

By Gabrielle Birkner

Published January 09, 2011.
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The synagogue where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is a member held a healing service in her honor Sunday — one day after the Arizona congresswoman was shot in the head outside of Tucson supermarket. She had been meeting with constituents at the time of the attack, which killed six and wounded 14.

Giffords, 40, remained in critical condition Sunday night. Her doctors said she was able to respond to simple commands after surviving brain surgery, a promising sign, but had been placed in a medically induced coma to control brain swelling.

Also Sunday, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner was charged on five federal counts stemming from the attack, including the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. He was also charged with the murder of two federal employees, John Roll, a federal court judge, and Gabriel Zimmerman, a Giffords aide, and with the attempted murder of two other federal employees, both members of the congresswoman’s staff.

Giffords recovery, and that of the others injured in the shooting, was the focus of Sunday’s healing service at Congregation Chaverim in Tucson. Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, whom Giffords has called her spiritual mentor, led the service that packed the sanctuary with an estimated 225 people.

Aaron said the congregants sang a series of healing prayers — including “Mi Shebeirach,” composed by Debbie Friedman, the popular Jewish songwriter who, coincidentally, died Sunday of pneumonia. The rabbi said that her message to those in attendance — a group composed of members of many different faith groups — was the importance of “recognizing the image of God in each other, and that each person has worth and a value.”

“That’s exactly what Gabrielle is able to do,” Aaron told the Forward. “She recognized, appreciated, celebrated and honored that b’selem elohim [God’s image] in others.”

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’s grandfather, the son of a Lithuanian rabbi, changed his name from Akiva Hornstein to Gifford Giffords — apparently to shield himself from anti-Semitism in the desert Southwest. The congresswoman serves on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and, like her grandmother before her, is a lifetime member of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.


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