Georgia's Jon Ossoff Sworn in as Senator, Promises to Fight for 'Equal Justice'

Democrat Chuck Schumer – 'a kid from Brooklyn, the son of an exterminator and a housewife, a descendant of victims of the Holocaust' – becomes first Jewish Senate majority leader

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
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Senator-elect Jon Ossoff (D-GA) arrives at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol,  in Washington, DC, January 20, 2021.
Senator-elect Jon Ossoff (D-GA) arrives at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, DC, January 20, 2021.Credit: Drew Angerer - AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON - Jon Ossoff officially became Georgia's first-ever Jewish senator when he was officially sworn in in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday afternoon.

Firmly rooting himself in a tradition of solidarity between Black and Jewish people, Ossoff was sworn in on a book of Hebrew scripture once owned by a prominent rabbi known for his involvement in the civil rights movement.

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“Fighting for the people of Georgia means fighting for equal justice,” Ossoff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly before being sworn in.

“And the alliance between Blacks and Jews in the civil rights movement is a model for what we can achieve when we continue to build the multi-racial and multi-generational coalition we’re building now.”

Ossoff was sworn in by incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris, at the same time as his fellow Georgia senator Rev. Rapahel Warnock and Andrew Padilla, who is taking Harris's seat and is California's first Latino senator.

Folllwing the swearing-in, Democrats officially took the Senate majority, making Sen. Chuck Schumer the first-ever Jewish Senate majority leader.

In his first remarks as leader, Schumer noted the Senate "will turn to Democratic control under the first New York-born majority leader in American history."

"A kid from Brooklyn, the son of an exterminator and a housewife, a descendant of victims of the Holocaust - that I should be the leader of this new Senate majority is an awesome responsibility," Schumer added. "Awesome in the biblical sense, as the angels that trembled in awe before God. Today, I feel the full weight of that responsibility, a sense of reverence, of awe at the trust placed in me."

The book that Ossoff took his oath on belonged to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, who led The Temple, Atlanta's largest congregation, from 1946 to 1973. During his tenure at the Reform congregation (where Ossoff also happened to have his Bar Mitzvah), Rothschild is largely credited for spurring Atlanta's Jewish community to support the burgeoning civil rights movement in the 1950s.

A voters rights march in Georgia in 1965, featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Bunche, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right) and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.Credit: AP

Ossoff has credited his victory to the Black-Jewish alliance, and recently said his victory caused him to reflect on his relationship with the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis – his and fellow Georgia Senator-elect Rev. Raphael Warnock’s friend and mentor. “The very first meal we shared, [Lewis] wanted to talk about the Black and Jewish communities’ historical alliance,” Ossoff said, adding how Lewis highlighted the key moments where Jews were active participants in the civil rights movement. 

Ossoff's victory made Jewish history in a number of ways: He will be Georgia's first-ever Jewish senator, as well as the first Jewish senator elected from a southern state since the 1880s. He is also be the youngest Democrat to be elected to the Senate since President-elect Joe Biden in 1973.

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