Ossoff in the Senate: ‘I can’t waste a minute that’s available to do good.’

WASHINGTON -- Jon Ossoff won his seat in the U.S. Senate with the overwhelming backing of Black voters – and he wants his opening moments in office to reflect that coalition of support.

The Democrat was escorted into the chamber by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a son of civil rights activists who has made a criminal justice overhaul the backbone of his agenda.

And he was sworn in on the Hebrew scripture once owned by Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, the leader of Atlanta’s famed Temple synagogue who helped forge a durable alliance between the city’s Black and Jewish communities that’s endured for decades.

“Fighting for the people of Georgia means fighting for equal justice,” Ossoff said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly before he was 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.”

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Ossoff and Raphael Warnock made political history with their Jan. 5 sweep of GOP incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, breaking a streak of Republican statewide wins that stretches back to 2008. Ossoff is the state’s first Jewish senator, and Warnock is the state’s first Black member of the chamber.

On the campaign trail, the two Democrats frequently invoked the barrier-shattering nature of their bids: Ossoff, the 33-year-old son of an immigrant who was mentored by civil rights hero John Lewis; Warnock, the 51-year-old pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.

Ossoff’s swearing-in ceremony to the Senate nods to that shared history by highlighting Rothschild’s Chumash, a book of scripture sacred in Judaism.

The rabbi, who led the Temple from 1946 to 1973, forged a lasting friendship with King and used his prominent pulpit to denounce segregation and encourage Jewish leaders to fight hate groups and intolerance.

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After the synagogue was bombed by white supremacists in 1958, then-Mayor William Hartsfield stood in the rubble alongside Rothschild to condemn the attack. Infuriated civil rights activists rallied behind the Jewish community. And it was a turning point for local Jewish leaders, who committed to being more engaged in local politics.

“That book isn’t just about the synagogue and my Jewish background,” said Ossoff, who earned his Bar Mitzvah at the Temple. “It’s also about the necessity of reanimating the spirit of the civil rights movement and building alliances to pass landmark civil rights legislation.”

Ossoff is also the first U.S. senator born in the 1980s, and he heralded the Democratic sweeps as part of a “generational change” in the Senate. He said he’s spent the last two weeks forging relationships with Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle, and spoke of the emotions that swept over him as he watched Joe Biden’s inaugural address.

“I really had to step back and reflect on what an extraordinary opportunity this is to do good -- and the obligation I have to make the most of it,” Ossoff said, adding: “That’s exactly what I was feeling up there. I can’t waste a minute that’s available to do good.”