Houston rabbi shares insight on congresswoman Giffords' progress

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD/KHOU) - For Gabrielle Giffords, home is now in Houston, which is more than a thousand miles from Tucson, but faith is never far, it's always in her heart, said a Houston rabbi.

"Gabby is a spiritual person. She welcomes the opportunity to hear and to receive prayers and feel comforted by them," said Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel in southwest Houston.

Lyon, who is a longtime friend of the Jewish congresswoman's Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, in Tucson, meets with Giffords about three days a week at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in the Texas Medical Center.

The congresswoman is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head after a shooting outside a shopping center in Tucson in early January.

"Gabby likes to reach out and hold my hand and she listens carefully and smiles easily. Prayer for her is meaningful," said Lyon. "Gabby is a sweet, spirited person who doesn't give up and truly wants to make a difference. Currently, it's to make a difference in her own life, but ultimately to continue making a difference in the lives of others in which she was elected to serve."

As it's been reported, the rabbi says Giffords recognizes friends and loved ones. He also said she sang "American Pie" with Aaron, who was recently in town.

Lyon said Giffords has an appetite.

"Well, she had a little chicken soup with matzo balls. I think that's fair to report, and as we know it is Jewish penicillin," said Lyon. "Gabby is making the kind of progress that all of us would anticipate, whether it's words or emotions."

Lyon said Giffords will sometimes wear a wristband that he gave to her and her family.

"A little wristband that many people like to wear for a lot of different causes. It's an orange wristband and it says in English letters, but it's a Hebrew phrase. It says 'Gam Zeh Ya'avor,' and it means 'this too shall pass.'  And it means not only will all of this pass, but there are joyful moments that pass into less joyful moments, but even those less joyful moments will pass into more joyful times in the future," said the rabbi.

In addition to faith, Lyon said family is playing a large role in the congresswoman's recovery. According to the Congregation Beth Israel rabbi, the stories that have been reported about her adoring, doting husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, are true.

"I like to say that, for an astronaut, he is truly down to earth," he said. "I think they are the sweethearts of America today. We place so much confidence in the love that holds them together and in the hope that they have that everything will be as it once was."

Lyon said Giffords responds well to stories, especially when they center around Tucson.

"When I mention to her Rabbi Aaron, there is a natural response. Happiness, joyfulness, she remembers the things that Rabbi Aaron said to her," said Lyon.

The rabbi recalled Giffords reaction as he shared information about his recent trip to her hometown.

"Before I left, I wanted to be sure and see Gabby, and when I returned I wanted to tell her again, and when I mentioned Tucson and visiting my sons who are students there, she smiled. It's a joy for her to hear reports and to know that other people are connected to her city and her state," he said.

Lyon said the congresswoman has a very busy schedule at TIRR.

He's hopeful that in the future, Giffords will be able to report on her own progress.

"I remain positive with her and hopeful," he said.  "So my words with her are about everybody rooting and celebrating every step she is taking to a full recovery."

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