YIR: Electoral History in the Eye of the Beholder
Year in ReviewLocal

YIR: Electoral History in the Eye of the Beholder

January 2021: The wins in the Senate runoffs by Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff prompt happiness, pride and concern on issues of particular interest to the Jewish community.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are making history in their own rights as the seeming winners of the recent runoff elections.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are making history in their own rights as the seeming winners of the recent runoff elections.

Georgians made a historic choice on Jan. 5, 2021, when Jon Ossoff became the first Jew elected to the U.S. Senate from the state.

Ossoff defeated Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue in a runoff, winning with 50.6 percent of the vote. Ossoff had won the Democratic primary the previous June. Votes garnered by a Libertarian in the November 2020 general election prevented either Ossoff or Perdue from winning a majority, requiring the runoff.

Nathan Posner for the AJT// Sen. Jon Ossoff speaks at a “We Can Do This” vaccine tour event with Vice President Kamala Harris in Atlanta June 18.

The 34-year-old Ossoff (who was 33 when elected) is serving a six-year term that expires in January 2027. The runoff victories by Ossoff and Sen. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, gave Democrats 50 seats and with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tie-breaker, nominal control of the Senate.

Based on available histories, Ossoff, who was a bar mitzvah at The Temple, is the first Jew elected to represent Georgia in the Senate. In 1932, John Sanford Cohen, whose father was descended from Portuguese Jews that settled in Savannah, was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy resulting from the death of William J. Harris. Cohen, who served for a year and did not seek election to the office, identified with his mother’s Episcopalian faith.

Photo by Nathan Posner // Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock was projected to become what is believed Georgia’s first African American senator.

In a December 2020 letter to the Jewish community published by the AJT, Ossoff said that his Jewish upbringing “instilled in me a conviction to fight for the marginalized, the persecuted and the dispossessed.”

On Jan. 20, 2021, the day he officially became a senator, Ossoff posted on Twitter: “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.”

As he took the oath of office, Ossoff raised his right hand and in his left held a Hebrew Bible that once belonged to the late Rabbi Jacob Rothschild of The Temple.

During his campaign, Ossoff occasionally mentioned having family in Israel. In May 2021, Ossoff said that a message from fearful relatives in Israel moved him to call for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas. “Over the weekend I got an email update on the safety of my family in Jerusalem. With the constant sirens, my three-year-old cousin has been very afraid and very upset, and they told me they were fervently hoping for an announcement of peace by the end of Shavuot,” he told the AJT.

Ossoff previously was managing director and CEO of Insight TWI: The World Investigates, a London-based company that produces news documentaries. In 2017, he ran for Congress from Georgia’s 6th district. In what may have been the most expensive House race in history, his fell just short of a majority in an all-comers primary, then was defeated in a runoff by Republican Karen Handel.

read more: