Sure enough, barely 48 hours after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, the Jewish media picked up on her Jewish roots. Now, little else will likely matter in the timeline of events.
It will be lost on most Jews, I predict, that this paragon of Jewish involvement — a leader within her Jewish community, a representative of Jews to America and beyond — was a proud, patrilineal, intermarried Jew who found Judaism late.
Giffords was the daughter of a Christian Scientist mother father and a Jewish father mother, raised in both faiths, as reported by JTA. She married astronaut Mark Kelly — not Jewish, as far as reports say — in a ceremony with two canopies, a huppah and Naval swords. She attended services at a local Reform synagogue. Apparently she came to her faith later in life, taking up mainstream Jewish causes in the Arizona legislature.
The community will, I predict, renew the claims of anti-Semitism without realizing that most of the Jewish world frowns on the very substance of her life. The Jewish community expends much energy discussing the dangers of non-Jewish influences on young Jews. Special condemnation is expended even in liberal circles on dual-religion households. Plenty recommendations are aimed against the very choices Giffords and her parents made. Yet it’s clear that Jewish values triumphed in both her outlook and her later-life affiliation. Genetics, as we mixed Jews know, convey no values — loving parents do. Seeking purity (read: kosher) in culture, faith, community and love leads directly to racism, xenophobia, paranoia.
While the headlines in Israel already ran “Jewish congresswoman shooter favorited Mein Kampf” and the-world-hates-Jews mantra rings again, it’s already forgotten that Giffords would be a second-class citizen in Israel. This woman who spoke so highly of Jewish women, wouldn’t have the right get a divorce in Israel. “In my family, if you want to get something done you take it to the Jewish women relatives,” she told JTA in 2006. “Jewish women, by and large, know how to get things done.”
Giffords represented successive generations of blending Jewish life with the surrounding world: a worldy Jew, not a ghettoed Jew. She may have championed Jewish causes in her legislative agenda, but by all glowing accounts was fiercely for justice, fairness and equality for all. Including illegal immigrants.
She was Jewish enough to be killed for her Jewishness, if indeed that is the case. (Which seems unlikely to be the primary cause, but that’s not stopping the Jewish-Israeli media, it appears.) And she’s Jewish enough for the Jewish community to own a side-show of the media circus. Jewish enough to be our martyr, it seems, but not Jewish enough to be treated equally in life.
I, for one, see in Giffords the kind of Jewish choices and identity they’ll see tons more of: intermarried and mixed in heritage, uniquely Jewish, universally human. Like myself, like 50% of Jews under 25 today. More and more, we will be your leaders, your country’s leaders, and your faces to the world. We will make you proud of our accomplishments, even as we defy the protocols of Jewish continuity. If only the Jewish community would treat us with as much honor in life as in martyrdom.
[Editor’s note: subsequent editing confused sources. According to JTA, her father is Jewish, her mother is Christian Scientist.]