Editor’s Note: Many of us have read about the tragedy in Arizona that resulted in the deaths of innocent people and left Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life. While we have heard Giffords referred to as “the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona,” we know little else about her religious background. A story that appeared in jewishtucson.org several years ago revealed insights into Gifford’s personal history and her strong support of Israel that we wanted to share with you.
Gifford’s Jewish roots can be traced back to her great grandfather, a Lithuanian rabbi. Her grandfather, Akiba Hornstein, changed his name to Giff Giffords fearing anti-Semitism when he moved from New York to Southern Arizona more than 60 years ago. In the 1940s, he founded the family’s tire and automotive business, El Campo Tire, a thriving company for more than 50 years, which the congresswoman ran for several years before serving in the Arizona Legislature.
Growing up, Giffords says her family’s Jewish roots and tradition played an important role in shaping her values. The women in her family served as strong role models, and she joked that in her family, if you wanted to get something done, you took it to the women relatives. Like her grandmother, she is a lifetime member of Hadassah and of Congregation Chaverim.
While serving in the Arizona State Senate, she had the chance to visit Jerusalem and called the trip “one of the most memorable experiences of my life.” She met with Ehud Olmert, then serving as Jerusalem’s mayor, and got to see first-hand the sacrifices the Israelis make in the name of security. She returned as an even stronger supporter of Israel believing the United States must do everything possible to secure Israel’s long-term security and achieve a lasting peace in the region. Peace between Israel and her neighbors, she believed, could only be achieved by direct talks between the parties.
“As a woman and a Jew,” she declared, “I will always work to ensure that the United States stands with Israel to jointly ensure our mutual safety, security and prosperity.”
Also while serving in the Arizona Senate, Giffords sponsored legislation that was signed into law allowing victims of the Holocaust, or their heirs, to collect insurance claims (HB 2541), which re-opened the statute of limitations for these claims.