Gabe Zimmerman’s Jewish story


In the initial hours after the Jan. 8 shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, most of the media was working to sort out whether the congressman had survived the attack. Another question JTA readers were asking — was one of those killed, Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, also Jewish? The answer was no.

But it turns out, according to the Forward, Zimmerman had his own Jewish story:

It is, perhaps, only in America that a congresswoman named Gabrielle Giffords could reclaim the Jewish identity of her father’s family — originally named Hornstein — after living much of her life apart from the Jewish community. And it is no less of a tribute to American fluidity, however ironic, that the aide who died by her side under a hail of fire was a non-Jew named Gabe Zimmerman who lived a crucial segment of his life immersed in a storied corner of the American Jewish milieu.

When Zimmerman was shot dead alongside five others in a Tucson, Ariz., parking lot on January 8, shocked former campers and counselors of Camp Kinderland, a leftist Jewish summer camp in the foothills of the Berkshires, quickly began trading e-mails. Zimmerman, Giffords’s director of community outreach, had been out of touch with many of the Kinderland alumni for years. But some summer memories have yet to fade.

It was 2001 when Zimmerman first arrived at the Massachusetts summer camp — the same year Giffords began her journey to a Jewish identity through a trip to Israel. And according to those who remember, Zimmerman’s first day there could have gone very badly. At a camp where most counselors were former campers, Zimmerman, then 20 and a total outsider, had been handed the toughest bunk: counselors in training, hardened camp veterans who had been together for the better part of a decade.

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