Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Treating Children of Intermarriage as Equals

This weekend, we were horrified to read of the brutal and senseless attack in Tucson, AZ that left numerous people dead and wounded. The target of the attack, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is reportedly still in critical condition, and we – along with the rest of the nation – are praying for a full recovery.

We had the pleasure of meeting and working with Rep. Giffords in 2007, when she co-chaired, with Adam Bronfman, our North American Conference in Washington, D.C. She spoke eloquently about her experience as a child of intermarriage who came back to Judaism as an adult. In both her personal and political life, she took up Jewish causes and never shied away from her background as a Jew. Jewish newspapers include her religion in headlines about the shooting tragedy, never questioning her status as a member of our community.

The website noticed the collective acceptance of Gifford’s Jewish background, and a blogger with the moniker Kung Fu Jew wishes this standard of acceptance were applied to all children of intermarriage who are involved in the Jewish community, not just the ones who are famous.

At JOI, we often call this double-standard the “Celebrity Exception.” This is the idea that a celebrity gets a pass when they marry someone of another background or, if they are a child of intermarriage, identify with the Jewish community. Regardless of their background or choice, the community warmly and enthusiastically embraces these folks. With so much rhetoric aimed at discouraging intermarriage or the exact lifestyle choices made by Giffords (who intermarried) and her intermarried parents, this double-standard comes across as disingenuous and opportunistic. Giffords was Jewish enough “for the Jewish community to own a side-show of the media circus,” writes Kung Fu Jew. She was Jewish enough to be our martyr, “but not Jewish enough to be treated equally in life.” What about the Jewish status of all others with similar backgrounds? He writes:

I, for one, see in Giffords the kind of Jewish choices and identity (the Jewish community will) 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.

We agree with this powerful and much needed statement on the importance of being more open, welcoming and sensitive to the growing number of intermarried families and children of intermarriage. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rep. Giffords and her family.


  1. Can’t we just pray for a full recovery without using that prayer as a soapbox to talk about intermarriage? There are many opportunities to talk about intermarriage, but some are best not taken in the interests of sensitivity and good taste.

    Comment by Harold — January 11, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  2. How about gun control, Harold? Would it be inappropriate to talk about that in the context of this shooting? What about the political atmosphere of anger? Still an inappropriate topic? What IS appropriate? Is it only to say, “gee, I hope she gets better,” end of conversation? This is an important story, I think it is relevant to examine all the various aspects.

    The Jewish community had a strong reaction; it’s totally fair to examine that reaction and wonder why it required a moment of tragedy to have communal consensus on her Jewish identity. If not after that very moment, then when? Was there a specific waiting period you had in mind? They’re not using the prayer for her recovery as a soapbox, they’re praying for her recovery, period, and they’re separately critiquing the Jewish community’s reaction to the events.

    Comment by Scott E. — January 11, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

  3. Scott,

    Gun control and the political atmosphere of anger relate 100% directly to what actually happened. They would be entirely appropriate to discuss (although probably not by JOI, since it is not its issue). In fact, they are necessary to discuss, because it is incredibly important to fix the things that made this tragedy possible so that it doesn’t happen again.

    Intermarriage, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with what happened, and talking about it isn’t going to help the situation at hand. I think the Jewish community’s strongest reaction to the event was the same reaction that the rest of America had - repulsion at the barbaric shooting that took place. The fact that she was afiliated with the Jewish community may have made it “hit home” a little more, but it was not the main issue. Had she been a Mormon, I think the Jewish community still would have been horrified at what happened.

    Anyway, it just strikes me as a bit odd (and a bit off) to have an article that says: we pray for her recovery, etc. - now while we’re on the subject, did you know she was intermarried and a child of intermarriage - and while we’re at it let’s talk about the Jewish community’s reactions to the intermarried, etc.

    That’s quite a different thing than discussing how gun control policies may have made this tragedy possible.

    Comment by Harold — January 12, 2011 @ 5:37 am

  4. This blog entry isn’t responding to the Jewish community’s reaction of repulsion at the shooting — who would disagree with that? This blog entry is responding to the Jewish community’s reaction of claiming Giffords as one of its own, which DID happen, and is a relevant part of the story even if it’s not the MAIN story, just like Sarah Palin’s targeted graphic wasn’t the MAIN story either but is still relevant to discuss. I think it is totally fair to have a response to a reaction that is not the main reaction.

    For people who care deeply about the way the Jewish community welcomes (or does not welcome) patrilineal Jews, the reaction of the community was as obvious newsworthy as it was to those who connected Palin’s target list to this incident in some way, even if peripherally. For example, Aish, an Orthodox organization that regularly has very negative things to say about all Jewish intermarriage, claims Giffords:
    Sorry, but that is newsworthy for those of us who follow this other topic, and we have a right to point it out, even though we are of course much more disturbed by the actual event. (We are complex enough being to discuss different facets of the same event.)

    Comment by Scott E. — January 18, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

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