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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

The U.S.-Israel Relationship Loses a Close Friend

Rep. Cummings speaking on the main stage at the 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference.

On Oct. 17, longtime pro-Israel advocate Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) passed away at the age of 68. Throughout his career, Rep. Cummings worked tirelessly to serve the nation.

“AIPAC mourns the passing of Representative Elijah Cummings. Rep. Cummings was a strong advocate of the U.S.-Israel relationship. His innovative youth program, ECYP, helped forged ties between young people in his beloved Baltimore and youth in Israel. The pro-Israel community extends our condolences to his family, his constituents and his many admirers throughout the country,” AIPAC said in a statement.

Beginning in 1983, when he won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, and only ending with his death in October, Cummings enjoyed a long career in politics. In the Maryland House of Delegates, Cummings became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first African American to serve as speaker pro tempore. In 1996, Cummings won the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. In Congress, Cummings served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation's diversity was our promise, not our problem," his wife Maya Rockeymoore Cummings said. "I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly."

Rep. Cummings played a major role in securing the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship. For more than 20 years, he spearheaded the Elijah Cummings Youth Program (ECYP) in Israel–a leadership development program that brings Jewish and African American high school students in Maryland’s 7th District to the Jewish state.

“He did not just lend his name to the program, he lent his soul. He attended almost every meeting and sat in for the children’s interviews. He had a good heart and cared about people,” AIPAC Board Member and former AIPAC President Howard Friedman said.

Every spring, high school sophomores from the Congressman’s district interview for a spot in the two-year leadership program. These students came evenly from the Jewish and African American communities. To create young leaders, ECYP focused on three pillars: leadership development, the Israel experience and community service.

“ECYP held a 20th anniversary celebration on June 2, and Congressman Cummings was the honoree,” ECYP Board of Directors Chair Michele Johnson said. “As I listened to him speak that night, I thought to myself–he is such a force. Our city, state and nation are so lucky to have him. His passion for his beliefs is so strong, and through ECYP we saw firsthand his passion for building bridges between the African American and Jewish communities.”

More than 200 people have graduated from the program, and many of them are now lawyers, teachers, journalists and more.

“Congressman Cummings has served as honorary co-chair of the program, but he was far more involved than that title would suggest,” Executive Director of the Baltimore Jewish Council Howard Libit wrote. “He personally called each selected student to welcome him or her to the program. He joined them for programming and retreats, wrote recommendation letters, delighted in hearing them announce their college selections (especially if they had chosen his alma mater, Howard University), and stayed in touch for years. If he received a fee for a speaking engagement, he donated it to the program.”

In addition to ECYP, Rep. Cummings played a major role in ensuring the Democratic platform included a strong pro-Israel position in 2016, when he served as the Democratic National Convention platform chair.

Respected by both parties, Democrats and Republicans both expressed their condolences to the representative and his family.

“I was shocked and saddened to learn the news this morning of my dear friend’s passing,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said. "Elijah Cummings was a man of principle, patriotism, and conviction, whose loss will be deeply felt throughout the State of Maryland and our country.”

"My heart is broken, as I weep personally and for his family and community," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said. "Elijah Cummings’ unmatched integrity and leadership leaves a remarkable legacy."

"There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), a Republican on the House Oversight Committee. "I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff—please pray for them. I will miss him dearly."

He is survived by his wife and three children. May his memory be a blessing.

Type: Near-East-Report Near East Report NERWinter2019-2020