On the eve of his first one-on-one debate with Republican Karen Handel, Jon Ossoff faced a friendly crowd during a question-and-answer session Monday, June 5, at Congregation Bet Haverim.

“Growing up in this community, I never found it to be a very partisan place. I think Americans and Georgians are less divided than many politicians and many of the press believe us to be,” the Jewish Democratic candidate for Congress said. “In fact, there are core policy objectives, core values and shared commitments that can unite people if candidates would speak to them rather than appealing to division and fear.”

Ossoff’s fiancée, Alisha Kramer, became a bat mitzvah at Bet Haverim, and Rabbi Joshua Lesser thought it was a perfect opportunity for his congregation and others to get more information about the candidate. The Toco Hills synagogue is outside the 6th District.

“I think as an LGBTQ-founded congregation, it’s important for us to speak out on a variety of issues, not just about LGBTQ folks,” Rabbi Lesser said. “The fact that I know Jon Ossoff is someone who supports those issues gives me great comfort.”

Handel and Ossoff are in a tight race to succeed Republican Tom Price, who resigned from Congress to become President Donald Trump’s health and human services secretary. Ossoff fell about 2 percentage points short of flipping the seat to the Democrats in an 18-candidate election April 18.

The runoff election for the most expensive congressional election ever is June 20, and the first Handel-Ossoff debate was scheduled for Tuesday night, June 6, after the AJT went to press. It’s still not certain how many debates they will have.

“I have agreed to six local, live debates, and my invitation to Secretary Handel to join me at those debates remains open,” Ossoff said. “I look forward to representing a positive vision that’s focused on accountability of Washington. We can only achieve those goals if we reject hyper-partisanship and career politicians who fail us time and time again.”

Issues such as federal fiscal responsibility should be nonpartisan, he said, and eliminating waste, duplication and improper payments would create budget space for such priorities as transportation.

“I think we know probably better than we ever have that renewal of infrastructure has to be one of the priorities,” Ossoff said, citing the need for rapid transit as well as road and bridge improvements to lure job-creating companies. “Young people in this community who are getting degrees in science, technology and math who are considering whether to stay where they grew up or work here, they expect that quality of life and efficiency.”

Ossoff used the Bet Haverim platform to address critics who have said he would not be good for Israel. He urged attendees to find common ground on Israel and assured them he stands with Israel and supports continued military assistance for the Jewish state.

“The overwhelming majority of American Jews want Israel and the Palestinians to be at peace and flourishing in peace. Instead, we spend so much time nitpicking at one another over symbolic divisions. I would be a staunch ally of Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people,” Ossoff said. “I will be a staunch proponent for continued U.S. engagement and leadership toward a two-state solution, which right now is on life support.”

Also during the evening, he criticized Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris climate-change accords and praised Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and municipal leaders around the national who have pledged to continue efforts to fight global warming.

“Politicians should pull their heads out of the sand and recognize action is required now,” Ossoff said.

Addressing national security after the weekend terrorist attack in London, Ossoff said Islamic State is a threat. “We need a strong counterterrorism that is based on intelligence that identifies threats before they enter the country and stops them from doing so — that polices threats that emerge from within the United States and hunts down and destroys those that inspire terrorism from their hiding places abroad.”