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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 Jewschool.com 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.



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