Tucson Jewish community anguished over Giffords shooting

Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, holds his critically wounded wife’s hand at the University Medical Center in Tucson the day after she was shot in a shopping mall in that Arizona city, Jan. 9, 2011. (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords)

By Sheila Wilensky, Arizona Jewish Post, Phoenix

Following the shooting Saturday that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and left six dead, the Tucson Jewish community has come together to pray for Giffords and the other victims and offer their support.

Giffords, who is Jewish, was among 14 wounded in the shooting rampage in front of a Tucson supermarket Saturday morning. Jared Lee Loughner was arrested for perpetrated the shooting and appeared in a Phoenix courtroom Monday.

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Among those killed were U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, 63; Christina-Taylor Green, 9; Giffords constituent services director Gabriel Zimmerman, 30; and Phyllis Schenk, 79; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Dorwan Stoddard, 76. Zimmerman, a native Tucsonan, was widely reported as being Jewish, although he was not.

“It’s shocking something like this would happen in our town,” Rodney Glassman, a former U.S. Democratic Senate candidate, said. “Gabby and I shared a really strong enjoyment of being out with constituents. This hits really close to home.”

At candlelight vigils outside of Giffords’ congressional office, at the hospital in which she is recovering, and at local synagogues and other houses of worship, the community expressed agony over Saturday’s violence.

Congregation Chaverim, where Giffords is a member, held a healing service Sunday morning with more than 150 people attending. Some six Tucson Police Department cars were on the scene, with officers providing security. Chaverim’s Rabbi Stephanie Aaron officiated at the congresswoman’s marriage to Capt. Mark Kelly in 2007.

“Envision Gabby in her fullness with her radiant smile,” Aaron told those at the service on Sunday.

Cantorial soloist Lori Sumberg led the congregation in a song of healing, saying, “When we have no more words we let music take us to a different place.”

Congregants also stood and recited the names of shooting victims or family members in a prayer for healing.

As part of the service, Melanie Nelson of the Pima County Interfaith Council spoke, noting Giffords’ support of the organization. “We must heal the divisiveness in this country,” she said. “Gabby’s always been a fighter and it’s up to us to continue fighting for a different level of conversation.”

“As Gabby always has, may we listen,” Aaron said at the end of the one-hour service. “May we see each one as a shining human being who has a purpose in the universe. May these prayers reach our Tucson, our country, our world. It’s time to see what we hold together and find our common ground.”

On Saturday evening, Temple Emanu-El held a prayer service led by Rabbis Jason Holtz and Richard Safran and cantorial soloist Marjorie Hochberg. More than 100 people attended.

“We are taught in Jewish tradition that each human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God,” said a statement by Senior Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, which was read to the congregation because the rabbi was out of town. “Today those images were shattered,” Cohon wrote. “It is up to us to pick up the pieces, and to make of those broken lives some holiness in our damaged community.”

On Sunday morning, after Congregation Chaverim’s healing service, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Women’s Philanthropy “13 Extraordinary Women Tell Their Secrets” event took place at the University Marriot.

Introducing the event, Jeff Katz, chairman of the JFSA, said, “We come together to grieve, to connect and to share the values that bind us together. Noting that the long-scheduled event was planned as a lighthearted morning, he said, “While it may seem hollow to laugh and celebrate,” celebrating the strength of our community would help move participants forward and heal.

He added that during her first campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004, Giffords said, “If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it,” and so it was appropriate to celebrate the 13 women “doers” honored at the brunch.

Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash gave an opening prayer, also referring to Saturday’s shooting. Aaron offered a healing prayer at the close of the event.

The federation issued a statement Monday “joining the greater Tucson area in mourning the loss of life and praying for the speedy recovery of those wounded in the senseless acts of violence.” The statement noted that Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona could provide counseling for individuals and families struggling with the aftermath of Saturday’s rampage.

“Just as Gabby and her congressional staff worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life, this tragic event reawakens our spirit to work harder and embrace our mission to improve the quality of life here, in Israel, and around the world,” said Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO. “Specifically through our Jewish Community Relations Council and other program arms of the Federation, we intend to re-double our efforts to encourage civil discourse in our community leaders and all those active in community life.”

On a personal note, Mellan told the Arizona Jewish Post that his wife, “Nancy, worked for Gabby, adored her and her staff, including Gabe Zimmerman, who was a truly wonderful young man. Nancy told me at that time of the belligerent behavior that emerged during the Tea Party protests outside Gabby’s office, and how that spilled into intimidating behaviors toward the staff regardless of how diligently they attempted to make constituents feel heard. This makes me even more certain that those who think that there is no connection between the vitriol and this act should reconsider.”

The shock of Giffords’ being targeted brought forth remembrances of her first campaign in 2004. Heather Alberts said she hadn’t known Giffords but agreed to hold a Meet and Greet on her patio that spring.

“After hearing her magnificent passion, engaging with her warmth, and recognizing her intellect, I just fell in love with her,” Alberts said.

Arizona Jewish Post Executive Editor Phyllis Braun contributed to this report.