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5 faith facts about Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Southern Jew with a passion for racial justice

He wrote a letter to the Atlanta Jewish community saying his Jewish upbringing instilled in him ‘a conviction to fight for the marginalized, the persecuted and the dispossessed.’

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber just after being sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(RNS) — He may best be known as the youngest American to become a U.S. senator since Joe Biden in 1973.

But in Jewish circles, Jon Ossoff, the 33-year-old documentary filmmaker from Atlanta who was sworn in Wednesday (Jan. 20) by Vice President Kamala Harris, is also gaining recognition as Georgia’s first Jewish senator.

Ossoff, who won the Georgia runoff election against Sen. David Perdue on Jan. 5, joins Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator to represent the state of Georgia, in the 117th Congress.

Here are five faith facts about Ossoff:

READ: The Rev. Raphael Warnock sworn in with two others as new senator

He is proud of his Jewish roots.

Ossoff chose to be sworn in on a Hebrew Bible once owned by Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, a towering figure in Atlanta’s Jewish history who was the target of intense hostility from white supremacists.

In 1958, white supremacists planted a bomb in the sanctuary of Rothschild’s Reform synagogue, called The Temple, that shattered the building on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street. Rothschild, an outspoken supporter of the civil rights movement and a friend of the Rev.Martin Luther King Jr., was not intimidated. He said the bombing had instilled “a new courage and a new hope” within the Jewish community.

During his swearing-in, Ossoff also carried in his jacket pocket copies of the manifests from the ships that brought his great-grandparents to the United States from Eastern Europe.

In this image from video, Vice President Kamala Harris swears in Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, from left; Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California; and Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, on the floor of the Senate, Jan. 6, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Senate Television via AP)

Ossoff grew up attending The Temple, and its legacy of interracial harmony shaped him.

Ossoff’s father is Jewish, but his mother, an Australian immigrant, is not. Before studying for his bar mitzvah, which took place at The Temple, Ossoff formally converted to Judaism by dipping into a mikvah, or ritual bath. (Judaism is traditionally passed down through the mother, though the Reform movement now recognizes children of Jewish fathers.)

The Temple’s commitment to civil rights, Ossoff said, informed his own views. While he was in high school, he interned in the office of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the legendary civil rights activist who died last summer.

“I think that the values that were infused in my upbringing by my parents and grandparents and my synagogue — commitment to peace and justice and kindness — still inform how I approach my life every day,” Ossoff told Moment Magazine.

Right before the election, he wrote a letter to the Atlanta Jewish community saying his Jewish upbringing “instilled in me a conviction to fight for the marginalized, the persecuted and the dispossessed.”

Ossoff was himself the subject of anti-Semitism during the general election.

In July, Ossoff’s Republican opponent issued a Facebook ad that enlarged Ossoff’s nose, reviving an old anti-Semitic trope that portrayed Jews as having long, and often hooked, noses. Perdue took down the ad and said the alteration of Ossoff’s nose was a vendor’s error. But many people were not convinced.

“This is the oldest, most obvious, least original anti-Semitic trope in history,” Ossoff said in a statement. “Senator, literally no one believes your excuses.”

Ossoff married a fellow Jew.

Her name is Alisha Kramer and she is an OB/GYN doctor at Emory University Hospital.

The couple met as students at the Paideia School, an independent private school located in the Druid Hills neighborhood of Atlanta. They were an item for more than a decade before Ossoff proposed in 2017.

He likes Jewish food.

In 2017, he told Moment Magazine: “I’m always in the mood for matzah ball soup. Even if it’s 100 degrees outside.”

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