Local | National | News

Tucson Jewish community anguished over shooting rampage

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was gravely wounded on Jan. 8, 2011 in Tucson

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was holding her first “Congress on Your Corner”event since being re-elected in November. It was a typical sunny Saturday morning in Tucson in front of the Safeway market at Ina and Oracle, where some 25 to 30 people stood in line to have a word with their congresswoman, when a barrage of gunshots broke the calm.

Six people were killed and another 13 wounded in the rampage. Giffords, 40, who is Jewish, remains in critical condition from a gun­shot to the head at University Medical Center’s intensive care unit. As of Tuesday, five other patients remained hospitalized at UMC, with three in serious condition.

Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma at UMC, said Tuesday that Giffords “has a 101 percent chance of surviving. She will not die.” The congresswoman is able to breathe on her own, although she remains on a respirator as a precaution. Other positive signs: she is able to move both arms, reaching for her breathing tube, and to follow simple commands such as moving her fingers. On Monday, Rhee confirmed that she had given a thumbs-up to medical staff.

Victims who perished in the attack include 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, has been widely reported as being Jewish, although he was not.

“I’ll miss his promise and potential,” said Dot Kret, president and CEO of DK Advocates, which runs training and employment programs for the disabled. Kret met Zimmerman through Giffords a few years ago and became a friend. “We were robbed of someone who would have been such an asset to our community, which is almost as great as the personal loss.”

Five federal charges, including the murders of U.S. District Court Judge Roll and Zimmerman, were filed against Jared Lee Loughner in Phoenix on Sunday. Loughner also is charged with attempting to assassinate Giffords and kill two other members of her staff, Ron Barber and Pam Simon.

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

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Glassman urged his Democratic colleagues to exercise “caution in placing blame. We must wait for the facts before pointing fingers. To my fellow citizens on the other side of the political aisle, I ask that you stand strong, shoulder to shoulder, with your Democratic friends against dangerous, violent rhetoric that threatens our democracy.”

Congregation Chaverim, where Giffords is a member, held a healing service Sunday morning with more than 150 people attending. Around six Tucson Police Department cars were on the scene with officers providing security. Chaverim’s Rabbi Stephanie Aaron had officiated at the congresswoman’s marriage to U.S. Navy 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 that “when we have no more words we let music take us to a different place.” Congregants also stood and named shooting victims or family members to be sent healing prayers.

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,” said Aaron 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, Jan. 8, 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 the service. Senior Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon was out of town but said in a statement that was read to the congregation that at times of “great moral outrage, when truly terrible acts are committed, we fluctuate between two emotions” — devastation and anger.

“These are natural emotions, fully human, and they must be experienced completely before any healing or understanding can be affected,” he wrote. “But the heart of the matter, the ikar, as the Talmud would describe it … we must come to terms with what the lives that were stolen meant. We must embrace what the real value of a good human being is: a promising child, an outstanding jurist, a loyal aide, a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend.

“We are taught in Jewish tradition that each human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. Today those images were shattered,” wrote Cohon. “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 that “while it may seem hollow to laugh and celebrate,” honoring the strength of our community would help participants move 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,” 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 tragic shooting. Rabbi Aaron offered a healing prayer at the close of the event. (The AJP will feature coverage of the 13 Extraordinary Women event in the Jan. 28 issue.)

The Federation issued a press release 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,” noting that Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona can 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.”

The Federation has received “numerous heartfelt messages from friends around the world,” notes the press release. “We in Israel are unfortunately all too familiar with acts of terror directed against innocent civilians,” wrote Ira Kerem from the Tucson-Israel-Phoenix-Seattle (TIPS) program. “The pain that you feel today, we have felt countless times and we share with your community the suffering, powerlessness, and sense of loss.”

On a personal note, Mellan told the AJP 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 told the AJP. “She’s probably one of the most genuine people you’ll ever encounter.” She recalls that her granddaughter, Sophie Plattner, now 11, was “so inspired by Gabby. That’s what role modeling is about. Sophie has gone to every one of Gabby’s events with me since then.”

At candlelight vigils outside of Giffords’ congressional office, at UMC, and at local synagogues and other houses of worship, the community outpouring of agony over Saturday’s violence has continued.

Congregation Bet Shalom held a special service of reflection, including prayers for healing for Giffords and her constituents, with Rabbi David Ebstein on Wednesday, Jan. 12.

On Sunday evening at Congregation Chofetz Chayim, about 35 people gathered for a “prayer and perspective” service. Rabbi Israel Becker said he arranged the special service because Judaism directs us to transfer the shock and confusion generated by catastrophes into “positive spiritual energy” by trying to connect to G-d through prayer and acts of kindness.

While the violence has left the city of Tucson and the state of Arizona particularly shaken, Becker said, the shooting of Giffords while she tried to do her job as a government official affects the whole nation, “because we want the United States government to be able to function freely, and for a democracy to function freely, you have to be able to represent the people, you have to be able to connect with the people.” The Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, said Becker, mandates prayers for the peace of the government wherever Jews live, because without a stable government, “there’s no society, and there’s no life.”

The service included Psalms of healing and a memorial prayer for those killed. The usual Sabbath prayer for the safety of the country and government officials, said Becker, was amended to include those at the state and local level — a change Chofetz Chayim will make permanent.

AJP Executive Editor Phyllis Braun contributed to this report.