Josh Glancy

Jon Ossoff, Nice Jewish Boy, wins Georgia's Senate runoff

'Ossoff’s victory is an important moment for American Jews'


ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 05: Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff speaks with members of the media at Dunbar Neighborhood Center on January 05, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Polls have opened across Georgia in the two runoff elections, pitting incumbents Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) against Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

January 06, 2021 09:52

It’s not easy, trying to be a 33-year-old nice Jewish boy (NJB). And I do try. Ok I didn’t become a lawyer, but journalism isn’t such a disaster. Small pay cheques of course, but appearing in the pages of the JC wins lots of conversation points at shul kiddush. I have a nice Jewish girlfriend too, my twentysomething adventures  forgiven, if not forgotten. 

Then someone like Jon Ossoff comes along and ruins it for all of us. Ossoff is the newest senator from Georgia, whose somewhat unexpected victory in Tuesday’s Senate runoff has transformed the American political map. With Ossoff and Raphael Warnock narrowly winning both Georgia seats, Democrats now have a razor thin majority in the Senate and full control of Congress and the White House. Put simply, they can govern. The world will be a different place because of what happened in Georgia this week. 

And Ossoff, well, he’s put the rest of us NJBs to shame. He’s 33, a suburban boy from Atlanta and former BBC journalist, with a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. Three years ago, when I first wrote about Ossoff's political aspirations, we were both young Jewish dilettante hacks on the make. By the time I interviewed him at a railway museum in Savannah a few weeks back, he was on the cusp of reshaping America, a handsome, clean cut, shirtsleeves rolled-up, shayna punim sort of young politician who turns suburban women voters out by the chevy-full and charms all the bubbes at Rosh Hashanah. And I was still a not-quite-so-young Jewish dilettante hack on the make. 

At least he’s not a doctor, quipped Ben Jacobs, a US journalist, as the NJBs of Twitter absorbed the fact one of our number had just been elevated to political royalty. Not so fast though. His wife Alisha Kramer is, of course, a doctor. An obstetrician in fact. Adorably they’ve been together since high school. It’s too much. It’s hopeless. The rest of us can just give up and go home.  

Ossoff is sharp and amiable and catnip for Democratic donors, a wealthy Atlanta boy with a southern twang and a cosmopolitan outlook. Of course he hasn’t actually done very much in his relatively short life, nor did he come across to me as the next Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. But at 33 he’ll be the youngest Democratic Senator to enter the chamber since a 30-year-old called Joe Biden pitched up to Congress in 1973. So it could yet be my son the president, who knows?

It’s worth noting that Ossoff’s victory is an important moment for American Jews. We are often told that American Jewish influence is on the wane, as Hispanics and African-Americans and Asian-Americans rise to greater prominence. Maybe so, but with Ossoff in the Senate, the new generation has an important figurehead. America’s government will now have Chuck Schumer of New York as its majority Senate leader, Kamala Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff as its second gentleman, Tony Blinken as secretary of state and Ronald Klain running the White House as chief of staff. Ossoff, Schumer, Blinken, Emhoff and Klain sounds like a law firm I’d do business with, if I ever had any business to do.

Ossoff will also be the first Jewish senator from the deep south since the 19th century, when Benjamin Jonas of Louisiana became the first practicing Jew in the Senate and the first ever Jewish senator from Georgia. It’s a moment of welcome recognition for an ancient (by American standards) and often-overlooked community, overshadowed as it is by northern behemoths such as New York and Los Angeles. 

Savannah, Georgia, is home to one of the oldest shuls in America, established in 1735 by emigrants from the Spanish and Portugese synagogue in London and subsidised by the membership of Bevis Marks. Georgia was also home to one of the darkest chapters in American Jewish history, when Leo Frank, the 31-year-old president of Atlanta B’nai B’rith was lynched in Marietta. 

In 1913, Frank was convicted of murdering Mary Phagan, a child who worked at a pencil factory where he was a director. He was almost certainly innocent of the crime and has been posthumously pardoned, but when his death sentence was commuted in 1915, a lynch mob - orchestrated by prominent state politicians - dragged him from prison and hanged from a tree. 

Some 105 years later, it’s reassuring to see a young Jewish man from Atlanta will be the one making the laws in Georgia, not falling victim to bigoted injustice. It’s a nice story really, the ascent of Ossoff, unless you’re a 33-year-old NJB that is. We will never forgive him. 

January 06, 2021 09:52

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