Rep. Elijah Cummings, a longtime congressman who worked to build ties between the African-American and Jewish communities in his district, passed away this morning in his home city of Baltimore.
Cummings died at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate, after “succumbing to longstanding health issues,” according to a statement released by his office. He was 68.
“With the passing of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the City of Baltimore, our country, and people throughout the world have lost a powerful voice and one of the strongest and most gifted crusaders for social justice,” said Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young in a statement released by his office this morning. “Rep. Cummings, the son of sharecroppers whose ancestors were slaves, wasn’t afraid to use his considerable intellect, booming voice, and poetic oratory to speak out against brutal dictators bent on oppression, unscrupulous business executives who took advantage of unsuspecting customers, or even a U.S. President.”
Known for his civil rights advocacy, Cummings was elected to Congress in 1996. It his eventual role as head of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, he repeatedly clashed with President Donald Trump as he became a major player in the impeachment inquiry against the president.
Trump released a statement via Twitter following the announcement of the congressman’s passing.
“My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings,” he tweeted. “I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace!”
When the president referred to Cummings’ district as “a disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess” back in July, Jewish community leaders and media outlets decried the president’s choice of words, and many spoke out in support of Cummings and his relationship with the Jewish community.
For instance, Cummings founded the Elijah Cummings Youth Leadership Program in Israel, now in its 20th year. As part of the program’s prestigious fellowship, African-American teens from his district spend two years taking leadership seminars and learning about the local Jewish community, including by studying black-Jewish relations and the Holocaust.
The program also sends a dozen sophomore high school students from the congressman’s district on a three and a half week journey to Israel, said Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Howard Libit. Libit praised Cummings for his role with the program and it was an example of the congressman’s efforts to build understanding and solidarity between the black and Jewish communities of Baltimore.
“The Baltimore Jewish community is in shock this morning to learn of the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings,” Marc Terril, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said in a statement. “He supported countless initiatives on behalf of The Associated’s network of agencies and was a powerful advocate for our work.”
“While he will be tremendously missed, his presence will be felt for decades, and I am truly honored to have known him and called him a friend,” said Terril.
Libit was also deeply affected by Cummings’ passing. “Whenever he spoke, he would capture the whole room. He was just remarkable at sharing his passion and commitment for youth. It struck me every time I met with him that I have been in the presence of a great man,” he said.
“Congressman Cummings was a man of deep justice, integrity and accountability,” said Rabbi Daniel Burg of Beth Am Synagogue. “He was a fierce advocate for fairness and the rule of law. But he was also a mensch, and someone who wasn’t afraid to display humanity and vulnerability for the world to see.”
Looking to the future, Rabbi Burg expressed concern about the hole in the country’s leadership that the congressman passing has left behind.
“His premature death is a tragedy, for both his family and the United States at a critical moment in our nation’s history,” said Burg. “He has been at the forefront of the impeachment inquiry. His absence will be deeply felt, and he will be sorely missed.”
The Office of Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka released the following statement: “We lost a giant today. Congressman Elijah Cummings was a great champion of the people of Maryland and the United States, a gifted and talented legislator and a true American hero. He fought fearlessly for truth and justice while protecting our democracy and the people he served.
“His powerful voice will be greatly missed. But his spirit, aspirations and passion for public service will live on.”