News of the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords hit home for four local residents who met with the Arizona congresswoman on a pro-Israel lobbying mission to Washington last May.
The Edison/Highland Park residents met with Giffords in the Capitol’s Rayburn Room during a lobbying day arranged by NORPAC, the Englewood-based pro-Israel PAC.
“She started to talk about her Jewish background, and we were surprised to hear she was Jewish,” said Milton Erdfarb of Highland Park. “She was very proud of her Jewish heritage.”
The three-term Democrat remains in critical condition at University Medical Center in Tucson after being shot in the head Jan. 8 during a “meet and greet” outside a supermarket.
“She was really very nice,” said Erdfarb. “She told us she had a Jewish constituency and really was very much in favor of the NORPAC agenda. She talked about Holocaust survivors in her district and how she was in touch with them. It was really a very positive meeting.”
Giffords spoke extensively about her trip to Israel and told the group she preferred that the Israelis and Palestinians be left to work out their differences rather than having the United States administration “tell them how to work out peace,” said Erdfarb.
He added the group as a whole found Giffords to be “extremely warm” and “gracious.”
“We felt really positive about her and her future and her views toward Israel,” said Erdfarb. “We can only wish her a refuah shleima, a speedy recovery, and hope to see her in the halls of Congress once again as a friend of ours. It’s really an American tragedy.”
Giffords’ father is Jewish and she was raised in both faiths. A 2001 tour of Israel “cemented” her Jewish identity, she told an interviewer in 2007.
Shayna Schwarzberg of Highland Park accompanied her father, Ronald — rabbi emeritus at Congregation Ahavas Achim — on the mission. While he went to see a Michigan legislator, Schwarzberg, a junior at Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, met with Giffords.
“She was very happy to see me there as a teenager and female and encouraged me to pursue my advocacy for Israel,” said Shayna. “She was just so supportive. We really liked her. I thought she was understanding and really listened to what we had to say.”
She added the attack has left her with a personal sense of loss, explaining, “I felt as if I knew her.”