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From University Medical Center, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is being treated, to her synagogue, where the rabbi led an emotional service, Tucson residents gathered to pray for the victims of Saturday’s shooting attack

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Outside the University Medical Center in Tucson Saturday night. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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The gunman arrested in connection with the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of at least five others was clearly delusional, but was he influenced by the toxic rhetoric coursing through the country today?

The Safeway supermarket where six people were killed and 13 wounded in the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was still cordoned off when I arrived in Tucson on Saturday afternoon. Although Jared Lee Loughner’s alleged plan to assassinate the Democratic and Jewish Congresswoman had apparently failed, he had succeeded in turning the La Toscana Village shopping mall into an appalling yellow-taped crime scene. Five people were still arriving to retrieve their loved ones, and no cars were being allowed to exit the parking lot, so I parked across the street and walked over. There wasn’t much to see, apart from the empty scenes that were being shown on television. Driving away I passed a giant billboard advertising the Pima County gun fair.

At a press conference later that evening, held at the Westwood Look Resort, close to La Toscana, Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik added his two cents to the swirling debate over what appeared to be a political crime committed by a lone psychotic. “We have become the Mecca for intolerance and bigotry,” Dupnik said of Arizona. “Unbalanced people are particularly susceptible to vitriol.” The shooting, he said, took seven minutes. “There’s never security at her events,” he said. “She’s never asked for nor refused security.” I listened from the door with a few other reporters who also hadn’t thought to bring credentials. We were joined briefly were a handful of elderly hotel guests, who complained that the resort’s staff had promised them that they could attend, too. The guests eventually decided they would hear the proceedings better from the bar.

By the time I got to University Medical Center where Rep. Giffords was lying in critical condition, at about 9 p.m., there was a gaggle of perhaps three dozen well-wishers being circled by journalists.

Perhaps 20 feet away, a Latino family was praying loudly, having positioned themselves at a respectful distance from the quiet mourners. Some of the people in the circle were shaking hands, hugging, and thanking each other for coming. Others were tending to an impromptu memorial, making sure the candles didn’t set fire to the letters, flowers, signs of support, and other offerings. Most of the notes were addressed to Giffords. There was also a picture of Judge John M. Roll, who had been killed. I spoke with two 21-year-olds, both born and raised in Tucson: Elana Satten-Lopez, a student at Haverford College, and Thomas Myers, who attends the University of Arizona.

“We need to show this is not representative of Tucson,” Satten-Lopez said plaintively. “It’s just one person.”

“The political climate is so crazy,” said Myers.

“We watched some of his YouTube videos, but we didn’t understand them,” Satten-Lopez said. “They didn’t make any sense.”

An older couple, Charles Alexander and Cynthia Miller, stood nearby. “She’s such a good person,” Miller said. “She’s helped some friends of mine when nobody else could.”


Congregation Chaverim, the Reform synagogue Giffords attends, is a plain brick building with thick glass windows. The interior is largely unadorned. Small tapestries and red curtains hang from pastel pink walls, and a Hanukkiah sits on top of a piano. Yesterday morning more than 150 people attended a service led by Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, a small woman in a prayer shawl. When people came to speak to her she would either hug them, or hold their arm. When she cried she seemed even smaller, until the cantor put her arms around her. Then she grew into the embrace.

Rabbi Aaron, who presided over Giffords’ wedding to Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, an astronaut, often struggled with tears as she described Gabby and said blessings for “the afflicted.” Everyone in the congregation looked miserable. Some more Orthodox Jews wouldn’t consider Aaron, a woman, a legitimate rabbi, it occurred to me. She’s one hell of a rabbi.

Aaron began the service with a niggun, a prayer of lament, and then launched into two stories:

“A hasid is depressed and goes to see the rabbi. He’s explaining his problem when the fire begins to go out. The rabbi vigorously jabs the fire with a poker. ‘Do you see what happened there? When the embers spread out they begin to dim, when they come together they reignite. So too with people.’ ”

The other story was a tale about the Baal Shem Tov, the father of Hasidism. “This is a story we’ve unfortunately told too many times,” the rabbi said.

“The Baal Shem was resting after a long day doing good works,” she began. “A melech, an angel, woke him. Suddenly they were flying and came to a clearing where a boy stood. On one side of the boy was a sea of hatred and violence, on the other was an abyss of our anxieties. The Baal Shem Tov tried to call out to the boy, but his lips were sealed. However the boy’s eyes suddenly widened, and he saw what surrounded him. Frozen, he tottered on the brink. The Baal Shem Tov finally forced a single word from his lips: ‘Fly!’ ”

Sobs and laughing infants punctuated the service. One woman was so wracked with sorrow that she struggled to rise during the Mourner’s Kaddish and remained seated with a neighbor’s arm around her.

Melanie Nelson, who leads the Pima County Interfaith Council, said a prayer for people to come together. She told me later that whenever the interfaith council requested a meeting with the congresswoman or needed something, Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords aide who was also killed in the shooting, would arrange help.

Abraham Byrd, a 6-foot-3-inch elderly doctor, was standing in the back. He is not a member of the congregation; he isn’t Jewish. With tears running down his cheeks, he explained that he attended the service “out of respect and solidarity.” “It’s her congregation that supports her and gives her to us,” he said.

Eve Shapiro, a member of the congregation, is a pediatrician who had worked with Giffords on health-care policy. “Everyone’s still in shock,” she said. “Just such a thing to happen here.” She attended the service because she needed to be with the community, she said, “and in a place of Jewish healing.”

The service was run entirely by women, which seemed appropriate. As Giffords said in her first congressional race, “If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it. Jewish women have an ability to cut through all the reasons why something should, shouldn’t, or can’t be done and pull people together to be successful.”

After the service was over I spoke at length with the rabbi, who had been at the hospital late the previous night. “They were doing some tests with her, so I’m waiting for them to call me until I go back,” she said. I asked her how the community was handling the shock. “There’s a real sense of people reaching out for one another,” she said. “There’s a sense of people wanting to be together. We want to begin the work of preventing this from ever happening again in our society.”

I asked her to describe the Jewish teachings that would apply to such a terrible event. “I think there’s several strands of Jewish thought,” she said. “For example, the mishaberach, the healing prayers, calling on our ancestors to bless and heal us. The body should have healing, and the full self should have healing. And asking everyone who needs healing and should be healed. There should be an ever-expanding circle into the universe from this one prayer. That’s a very helpful prayer.”

She continued talking about the need for yechidah, or togetherness. “Being connected in togetherness,” she said. “Recognizing everyone in God’s image. I think that’s where we’ve gone wrong. We don’t do that anymore.”

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Shmuel says:

Thanks for getting in that anti-Orthodox statement. I guess one ought always to get that sort of thing in whenever you can. Great job.

I really didn’t see that as an anti-Orthodox statement, more as just an observation. He was just making note of that fact that this female Rabbi who many found to be very inspiring, would not be considered legitimate by all. How is simply making a note of that anti-Orthodox?

I think this is a great article. Well done, Mr. Klein.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:


Silly boy. Don’t you know that the main mitzva of the non-orthodox is to stick it to the orthodox at any given opportunity, warranted or not. According to Conservative, Reform, and secular Jewish dogma starting in the 1950s, orthodox Jews were supposed to disappear and the fact that we haven’t is our original sin for which there is no penance.



Victoria says:

It grieves me that even now in this hour of pain, we who are Jews, descend into Orthodox v. Non-orthodox speech. Labels are for clothes. We are simply Jews. Have we learned nothing at all?

Victoria, Shmuel, and Heshy: would that certain Jews not wait until martyrdom before considering all Jews united. The hypocrisy grates and if people can’t grant us mixed Jews the honor of membership until we’ve been shot for our Jewishness, then they can’t complain about it in moments like this.

victoria says:

Kung Fu:

I understand completely. I was on another Jewish website wherein a reader decided to spend time pointing out that “halachically she wasn’t Jewish”. As a convert, I understand completely the pain of hypocrisy. When I read Israeli newspapers I cringe when I read “i’m not Jewish, or I’m less Jewish”; do I have the right of return, etc. etc. Plus I have the additional issue of being a Jew of color and I read about the Sephardic vs. AK. That being said, we are simply Jews.

Daniel says:

I hate to ask this here given the event, but sincere question: do Reform Jews believe in prayer – i.e., in a G-d who listens to and is affected by prayers? I noticed the text of the articel in the NYT today described the Reform temple as holding a “healing service”, not a prayer service. I ask this question out of admitted complete and utter ignorance.

Daniel, the article indicates that this “healing service” was a prayerful one. Note the rabbi’s reference to the Mi Sheberach. Not all Reform Jews believe in petitionary prayer as such, but even those who don’t regularly petition HaShem do often have great faith in G-d’s healing power. The Reform movement recently issued a statement reaffirming the reality of G-d, and although there are many diverse views of just what “G-d” means amongst Reform Jews, I find that prayers for compassion and healing, deliverance, peace, justice, etc., etc., are commonplace.

Malach, not melech.

has this taught us nothing? we are Jews why does it have to matter if one branch says only those with a Jewish mother are acceptable and not the father,if we stand up to be counted as Jews,pray as Jews,live as Jews then we are Jews. Stop being so petty.Orthodox Jews who claim to be 100% perfect should think again:how about the Madoff scandal seems to me he took all Jews for a ride!

It should be noted that according to Jewish Law, Congress lady Giffords is not Jewish. Her mother was Christian while her father is Jewish. You cannot become a Jew simply by waving a wand or perform some other magical incantation. Having a service for her is nice, but lets keep in mind who is and who is not a Jew.

We’re doing the same thing that was a precipitating cause of this incident. We are dueling about Orthadox vs. Reform, the same way Republicans spar against Democrats, conservatives vs. liberal.When is this going to stop???!!!!!!!! Sarah Palin made a terrible statement prior to this horrific incident that could have been the spark to ignite that young man to go on a rampage, Gabrielle Giffords being the main target. Can the party one belongs to or favors be that important? Do they have to give fuel to the sick people out there who will act in a violent way. Personally, I am an American Jew who belongs to a wonderful reform Temple who reaches out to all..jew, gentiles, homeless, Arab, Homosexuals, divorce. So let us, as Jews and Americans unite without prejudice.

OY VEY, PEOPLE. do you think that maybe we’ve forgotten the reason for this article?

J Carpenter says:

Amen, Sharon. So many in this world cannot conceive of how big God’s tent is—
God love us all, heal us, protect us from evil.

regarding the Hebrew transliterations, please do correct:
“mallakh” (pronounced, “ma’llah”) is the word for angel. “melleh” means ‘king’.
‘yechidah’, is not ‘togetherness’, but rather almost the opposite ‘a (female) single one’. together is ‘Yahdav’ or ‘b’yahad’. I cannot recall a single word in Hebrew for ‘togetherness’.

As for the argument here, the issue for me, is Who is Human?
Let the dust settle on this Conservative versus Reform debate. As far as I know, it was not what fired the assassin.

are you going to do more reporting from there? you might go interview right-wing, gun-toting Jews to get their take on all this nasty business.

billie says:

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords are 2 spectacular Jewish women. I know and love them both and many of the above comments are disgusting. Thank you to Jodi who understands that we are talking about some tragiclosses of life and a fight for life, not the difference between melekh and mallach. No matter where you stand in the spectrum of our religious belief, the only thing you should be doing is praying for Gabby and all the other victims.

I’m an “orthodox” Jew, and frankly, I don’t care whether Mr. Klein misspelled some Hebrew words or not. This is not the forum for a spelling lesson (those of us who recognized the error, also understood how the error was made). It also does not matter to me whether or not Ms. Giffords is halachically Jewish or not, since she obviously identifies as Jewish and attends a temple. What is important is that the prayers of her friends and family and community — both in Tucson and in cities across the country — are heard and answered by HaShem.

And this divisiveness between Jews should stop! Years ago, my son, who hates labels, came up with a forumula for describing Jews. Let’s recognize that each Jew follows his or her own number of mitzvot, or X over 613. Less rancor and a lot more respect between people would lead to a much better world, and help make horrors like this one unimaginable.

People were murdered. Many here argue semantics, right to be called a Jew, but I will presume that these very things will be furthest away from your thoughts if it had been you, your family, or your neighbor that received the bone shattering, tissue tearing shrapnel through their body killing or leaving them wounded and clutching for life! Shame on you! Send blessings. Write words of encouragement. Do not be so unfeeling. A fellow human being, created and designed for love and righteousness was either killed or mamed. Let righteousness go forth in your speech. Please.

Shame on any of us who would use this tragic event to debate anything other than the clear need for an American leadership that rises above partisan politics, bigotry and racism in order to help this great country regain the moral authority in the world that it once truly had.

Yasher koach (or yishar kochahem) to Dan Klein on a wonderful article which communicates the desire for healing, prayer and YACHAD, togetherness (as in shevat achim gam yachad, brothers sitting together).

As for who is a Jew, look no further than 66 years ago for an answer. On January 27, the world observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945.

Gabby Giffords, had she lived in Germany in that time, would have been taken to the death camps as well. Her assailant (and those who incited him act) should be treated just as we regard those who spread the evil of the 1930s and 40s. HaShem is crying, and it is up to us to perfect the world and do tikkun olam.

For all those who wish to light a candle, a special yellow Holocaust memorial candle exists, developed by survivors of the Shoah. Google “Shoah Yellow Candle” and you will find out more about it.

Eric Weis

Shmuel and Heshy, your comments are not at all on point and are inappropriate in this forum. Can’t you see that we all mourning a terrible, senseless tragedy? Innocent lives have been lost; a family has lost a NINE YEAR OLD DAUGHTER. May they all rest in peace.
We don’t need this divisive drivel. This is not the place for your nasty rhetoric against other Jews. And incidentally, self involved myopic comments such as yours certainly don’t help raise anyone’s opinion of the Orthodox branch.

The problem is that everyone is attempting to find a reason for the actions of a person who was acting on his own understanding of the world. His reasoning will never be truly known. Pointing fingers at anyone but the gunman is a waste of time and, as some have pointed out, distracts us from praying for the dead, the wounded and the families of all involved. In that I include the family of the shooter. They are victims as well.

How helpful is infighting among different groups of Jews? That, to me, adds to the symbolism of what’s wrong with this country, and a good deal of the rest of the world. The minute that some of us decide that we are right, and the other party is wrong, we think it can give us the right to wipe out the wrong ones. Then who is wrong? The pendulum will continue to swing back and forth until we can accept and forgive each other for imagined and/or real wrongs. Otherwise, we are doomed to keep killing each other. Please let it stop.

The service was run entirely by women, which seemed appropriate. As Giffords said in her first congressional race, “If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it. Jewish women have an ability to cut through all the reasons why something should, shouldn’t, or can’t be done and pull people together to be successful.”- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
How many times have I found myself in a similar situation? Bears from Bergenfield is a BIG one…We found money to buy the duffels, we found people to take the toys, we found people to give the toys to….

J Carpenter says:
Jan 11, 2011 at 10:58 AM
Amen, Sharon. So many in this world cannot conceive of how big God’s tent is—
God love us all, heal us, protect us from evil.
My ex sister in law was converted by a Conservative Rabbi, does that make her less of a Jewess? like 75% then? My brother in law identifies as a Jew since his mother was born a Jew, but later converted to some Christian religion.
Aren’t we all G-d’s children as my friend Sue Ellen says?

I agree. We should be praying for her speedy and full recovery and not arguing if she is a REAL Jew or not.

naomi weinberg radtke says:




Thank you EBF. Very well put!


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From University Medical Center, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is being treated, to her synagogue, where the rabbi led an emotional service, Tucson residents gathered to pray for the victims of Saturday’s shooting attack

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