There Is So Much That Unites Us

Like everyone I know, I am amazed by and grateful for the remarkable pace of the recovery of Rep. Gaby Giffords after the attempt on her life a little over two weeks ago. The story of Giffords’ recovery in no way offsets the pain and loss of the six shooting victims who did not survive, but it is a story of determination and inspiration nonetheless. 


I am, however, less impressed with the ongoing discussion of Giffords’ “Jewishness.” She is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Christian Scientist mother, and while her Jewish heritage was always important to her, a visit to Israel was part of what brought her to fully identify as a Jew. She is the member of a Reform congregation; the Reform movement recognizes the concept of patrilineal descent, which means that the child of a Jewish father or a Jewish mother is considered Jewish, whereas the Conservative and Orthodox movements recognize as Jewish only those children born to a Jewish mother. A very good synopsis of the conversation about Giffords, written by Rabbi Jason Miller, was published by JTA and our own New Jersey Jewish News last week. I agree with Rabbi Miller’s conclusion wholeheartedly: “If Rep. Gabrielle Giffords considers herself Jewish because her father is Jewish and she lives a Jewish life, then she’s Jewish.”


I am nonplussed by this discussion because it is one of the things about denominational Judaism that makes me crazy. I am tired of arguing about the things that divide us, when there is so much that unites us and so much that we need to be united about. I myself belong to a Conservative congregation, one of the founding members of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and yet I find myself at odds with the Conservative movement on the subject of patrilineal descent, and more broadly, the many rules and regulations that many Conservative congregations have regarding the participation of “non-halachic” Jews in congregational ritual. There are approximately 13 million Jews in the entire world; if someone willingly affiliates with my stubborn, proud, ancient people, I for one am happy to add them to that number. 


One of the most beautiful traditions of our people is the misheberach prayer, the prayer for the healing of the sick. I am proud to include Rep. Giffords in my prayers, and to use her Hebrew name. 


May Hashem send a speedy and complete recovery to Gabriella bat Gloria v’Spencer.


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