Two days after his election to the Senate helped tip the balance of power in Washington, Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff found another historical echo in his victory.
In a Twitter thread, Ossoff described his trajectory from a teenage intern for John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights hero who died last year, to U.S. senator.
“And now a Jewish man he mentored and a Black man who was his pastor have been elected to represent the State of Georgia in the U.S. Senate,” Ossoff said. “I know Congressman Lewis is looking down on us today beaming with optimism.”
Congressman Lewis was one of the most important people in my life.
When we first shared a meal, many years ago, he wanted to speak with me about the importance of the alliance between Blacks and Jews in the American South.
— Jon Ossoff (@ossoff) January 8, 2021
Lewis is not the only link between Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, who like Ossoff defeated his Republican proponent in last week’s Georgia runoff election and gave Democrats a razor-thin majority in the Senate. Both invoked the historic Black-Jewish alliance during their campaigns and in the celebrations that followed their victories.
“I think Abraham Joshua Heschel, the rabbi who said when he marched with Dr. King he felt like his legs are praying, I think he and Dr. King are smiling in this moment and we hope to make them proud,” Warnock said in a video, referring to the Jewish theologian who joined Martin Luther King on a 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.
— Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons (@GuthrieGF) January 6, 2021
Ossoff, a 33-year-old Jewish documentary filmmaker, and Warnock, a 51-year-old pastor at Ebenezer Baptist, the Atlanta church where King preached until his 1968 assassination, made history when they became the first Jew and the first African American from Georgia sent to the U.S. Senate.
For Democrats and liberals, their win became a save-the-world moment, particularly as it coincided so starkly with President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden reaching a violent crisis. They bring Senate Democratic representation to 50, and on Jan. 20, once Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president and gets a tie-breaking vote, the Senate will flip, creating a wholly Democratic-led government.
They also represent an alliance that lagged for decades after its 1960s heyday and that in recent years has been revived, according to Jewish Democrats in the state, particularly in areas like improving health care and justice reforms.
“They campaigned together effectively as a ticket,” said Michael Rosenzweig, an Atlanta consultant who is involved in state Democratic politics. “And they were very very open, very explicit about the importance of the fact that we had a Black pastor running alongside a young very proud American Jew.”
Others took note of the historical resonance.
“This reckoning celebrates decades of struggle by countless civil rights foot soldiers and leaders inspired by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our recently-passed Black-Jewish Caucus Co-Chair Congressman John Lewis, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,” Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, the co-chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Black Jewish Relations, said Friday in a news release.
A blogger on Daily Kos, the clearinghouse website for Democratic activists, took delight in a viral tweet the day after the election showing actors Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, stars of the 1996 film “Independence Day,” enjoying their victory over an extraterrestrial menace. “The last time a black man and Jewish man saved America,” the tweet said. (Smith is Black; Goldblum is Jewish and so was his character in the movie, David Levinson.)