At a Temple Sinai evening in Roslyn Heights with former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, four-time space traveler astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, Rabbi Michael White emphasized the congregation’s mission to pursue tikkun olam—repairing the world, finding what is broken, healing and “an absolute obligation to rescue human life.”
As he introduced the evening’s speakers, the rabbi anticipated that “we will be touched and inspired by their lives, resiliency and commitment to eradicating gun violence by stressing the importance of overcoming the evil, immoral political opposition to gun control.”
Mark Kelly has a smooth, humorous speaking style. With a touch of localized comment—“good to be on Long Island, where gravity works most of the time”—he told stories of aircraft carrier landings and being tracked by missiles during wartime flights, as well as a personal tale about U2 frontman Bono. “Gabby loves both of us!” laughed Kelly, referring to the worldwide activist Irish singer.
Kelly described his mother’s determination, which underscored the power of having a goal and a plan. His presentation conveyed optimism and a dose of fatalism: “How good you are at the beginning is not a good indicator of how good you can become…practice, persistence and just not giving up….Life is a set of challenges….We have to focus on the things we have some control over.”
Giffords’ formal presentation was brief. “Be passionate. Be courageous,” she advised. ”Be grateful for friends and family and live every day to the fullest.”
Drawing inspiration from the assembled crowd of dedicated Roslyn neighbors, she concluded by encouraging everyone, “Get involved in your community.”
Immediately following, she and Kelly, sitting center bimah with Rabbi White, fielded questions. Her ability to respond, considering the massive trauma she endured as a result of the assassination attempt, was extraordinary. Asked about her recovery, Giffords said, “I’m optimistic; I want to make the world a better place.”
Kelly concurred: “Gabby is the most optimistic person I know. We’ve learned from fate and faith.” He further shared that Giffords’ rabbi, Stephanie Aaron, had told them, “When things appear darkest and bleakest, you have to have faith and hope.”
Gabrielle Giffords, descendant of 13 generations of Lithuanian rabbis, went to Congress to make a difference. During a “Congress on Your Corner” event in January 2011, she was shot in the head by a deranged gunman. “Gabby nearly lost her life serving her country,” said her husband.
“My spirit,” said the former congresswoman, “is as strong as ever.” She said she has “learned to live every day to the fullest… trying to become a better, stronger, tougher person rather than trying to reclaim my former self.”
Kelly proclaimed that she “inspires me each and every day.”
As a congresswoman, Giffords was a fan of America’s space program, said Kelly. She served on the House Armed Services Committee during her three terms. “She controlled NASA’s budget,” said her astronaut husband, a 25-year Navy veteran.
Four months after she was shot, he flew his fourth and final space shuttle mission. Kelly’s description conveyed excitement with an undercurrent of danger:
“It is an amazing, fragile machine—the best space ship, but the worst airplane. It’s like a runaway train at 1,000 miles an hour, going 25 times the speed of sound until it gets into orbit, and then circling the earth every 90 minutes.”
Gun control is an obvious and major component of the Giffords-Kelly agenda. Following the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the couple founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to “bring balance and level the playing field” and “be part of the solution to a problem that should have a solution.”
Gun control, said Kelly, “has become a political problem.” Noting that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has five million supporters and Americans for Responsible Solutions has only one million, Kelly urged people to “sign up.”
“There are,” said Kelly, “very powerful corporate interests involved with the sale of firearms—a significant problem.” He continued, “One of the things that is broken in Washington is our ‘gerrymandered’ congressional districts. Fixing that will be the single most difficult thing. Only about 40 of the 435 congressional districts are really competitive.” As a result, “we are paralyzed in the House.” He stressed the importance of getting corporate money out of politics.
“Everybody should find a way to serve their community. Get involved!” said Kelly. “The best days of the country are certainly ahead of us.”
Gabrielle Giffords is the only living female to have a U.S. Navy ship carry her name. Giffords attended the keel-laying ceremony of the U.S.S. Gabrielle Giffords in April 2014. The littoral combat ship is 419 feet long and able to travel faster than 40 knots. It was delivered to the Navy in December 2016.
The ship was “sponsored” by Roxanna Green, the mother of nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, the youngest of the six murdered during Giffords’ Congress on Your Corner.