True to his Jewish roots, Jon Ossof was sworn-in as a Senator on Wednesday afternoon, as he clutched a holy scripture in his hands through the process. Ossof was part of the socially distanced swearing-in ceremony in the Senate chambers hours after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president. A member of the Democratic Party, Ossoff was previously a documentary film producer and investigative journalist.
Making an appearance with Ossof yet again was the book of Hebrew scripture once owned by an Atlanta rabbi whose synagogue building was bombed by white supremacists in 1958. In October that year, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta sustained “massive” damage from dynamite explosions, as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the time. Luckily, no one was injured, but the perpetrators were speculated to have acted against the congregation’s rabbi, Jacob Rothschild, was a prominent civil rights movement supporter.
On Wednesday, Ossoff, the first Jewish senator from Georgia, was sworn in alongside the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from the state, and Alex Padilla, who in filling the seat of new Vice President Kamala Harris becomes the first Hispanic senator from California. Ossoff, 33, was then escorted down the rotunda aisle by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is not Jewish but often speaks Hebrew and cites Torah passages in public appearances.
Ossoff and Warnock, a pastor at the church formerly led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., leaned into a narrative of Black-Jewish cooperation in their campaigns. After he and Ossoff were declared the winners in their runoff elections, Warnock said that King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with King in the civil rights era, were “smiling in this moment.”
Moreover, the Ossoff and Warnock victories gave Democrats a 50-50 split in the Senate, making New York’s Chuck Schumer the first Jewish Senate majority leader. With his victory, Ossoff became the youngest member of the Senate elected since Don Nickles in 1980 as well as the first Jewish member of the Senate from Georgia and the first Jewish senator from the Deep South since Benjamin F. Jonas of Louisiana, who was elected in 1879.
In a tweet after his swearing-in, Ossof posted, “Today, as I was sworn in, I held in my jacket pocket copies of the ships’ manifests recorded at Ellis Island when my Great Grandfather Israel arrived in 1911 and my Great Grandmother Annie arrived in 1913.
A century later, their great-grandson was elected to the U.S. Senate.”