Arizona Jewish Community Shaken by Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

Congresswoman believed to be attacked for her liberal political positions.

WASHINGTON - Shock and bewilderment rippled through Arizona's Jewish community on Saturday, following the near fatal shooting of local Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson earlier in the day.

Giffords was shot in the head when an assailant opened fire outside a grocery store while she was meeting with constituents. At least six people were killed and another 13 wounded in a rampage that rattled the nation.

giffords - AP - January 10 2011

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, the leader of the Reform congregation Chaverim which Giffords attended, said the community was "shocked and horrified," noting that Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl were killed. "We don't know all the details, but it is incomprehensible," she said.

Aaron said that Congressman Giffords was "such a kind person" and "incredibly brilliant," and had been a member of the congregation for at least 10 years, maybe even 15. "I was the rabbi at her wedding," Aaron said, adding that the congregation had planned a special service for her on Sunday.

"We will pray for the recovery of Gabrielle, everyone injured and the families of those who lost their lives," Aaron told Haaretz, noting the community hoped to organize a blood drive. "Everything was pretty quiet in the city. There was nothing that could predict anything like this might happen," said Aaron. Media consultant Steve Rabinowitz, who originates from Tucson and who recently held a fund-raiser for Giffords, said the congresswoman was known to be "an outspoken woman, but she is not a controversial figure."

Rabinowitz said: "She faced a tough election and she got criticized by the conservatives in Arizona for her support of the health-care bill, but we don't know the motivation of the shooter yet." He said that the rhetoric in the country "got so ugly, it creates a really dangerous climate."

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that while the motive behind the act was unknown, "there can be no ignoring the increasing culture of violence in our nation and particularly in our political discourse."

"Dehumanizing language and images of violence are regularly used to express differences of opinion on political issues," Rabbi Saperstein said, adding that such "language is too often heard by others, including those who may be mentally ill or ideologically extreme, to justify the actual use of violence.

"It continues to be far too easy to acquire guns," he said, including the weapon used in the Tucson shooting.

"We stand stunned and deeply saddened... and we pray that Rep. Giffords' husband Mark and her entire family find support, comfort and strength among their friends and family, as we join them in praying for her full recovery," he added.

David Harris, AJC executive director, called the shooting "a dark day for our country," adding: "We are confident that all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations, will unite to condemn this atrocity, and reaffirm our faith in our country's fundamental democratic values of mutual respect and free speech."

Harris said: "There are worrying indications that the gunman was motivated by extremist political views, which encourage the use of violence against those who think differently." Harris said law enforcement should investigate whether the gunman acted alone or had any accomplices.

Arizona officials said yesterday they were looking for another "person of interest" in the attack.