AUSTIN (KXAN) - Around 600 women cheered on former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she pushed her way through a short speech after being honored in Austin Monday at the largest fundraiser in the Jewish community.
After Giffords was the victim of a shooting in Tuscon, Ariz.., in 2011, she lost much of her ability to walk, speak, read and write. The 14th annual Mosaic luncheon at Austin Music Hall recognized Giffords for her resilience in the face of adversity.
With the help of her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, Giffords let the audience know that "it's been a long haul," but that she's getting better. The crowd grew somber and quiet as she told them to always be passionate and courageous in life.
"I'm working hard," she said. "Lot of speech therapy, physical therapy and yoga too. But my spirit is stronger than ever. I'm still fighting to make the world a better place."
Hosted by The Jewish Federation of Greater Austin Women's Division, the yearly luncheon honors women who inspire and influence those in their community.
"She was a huge consensus builder in Congress, actively involved in her community in Arizona, a steadfast advocate for Israel, and she's doing a lot to promote awareness to fight against violence – particularly gun violence," said Randi Shade, co-chair of the luncheon.
Kelly said that while the shooter may have "put a bullet in [Giffords'] head, he did not put a dent in her spirit."
"I love it when she heads off to therapy every day, one of the last things she'll say to me is, ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!'" said Kelly to the luncheon attendees. "She never gives up, and she reminds me every day to deny the acceptance of failure."
Other women, such as Austinite Dana Baruch, were honored for their leadership in the Jewish community as well. Baruch received the Woman of Valor award for founding the city's first children's Jewish school, and for her leadership of the Austin Jewish Academy and J-LEAD, Austin's premier Jewish young leadership program.
Keynote speaker Rochelle Shoretz, a two-time breast cancer survivor, was recognized for founding an organization called Sharsheret -- Hebrew for "chain" -- which promotes awareness among Jewish women who face increased genetic risk or have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The luncheon raised over $2 million dollars in ticket sales and donations. All proceeds support Jewish Family Services, Jewish leadership organizations, families who want to send their children to Jewish educational programs, and humanitarian efforts of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
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