Obama White House Passover Seder 2009
By Natasha Mozgovaya
The celebration of Passover reminds us to fight oppression everywhere, U.S. President Barack Obama said in his annual holiday greeting on Monday, also highlighting the battle against all forms of discrimination.
In a statement released by the White House and signed by Obama, the U.S. president wrote that the story of Exodus taught that, “wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won.”
“In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination,” Obama wrote, adding that by doing so “we reaffirm the ties that bind us all.”
The American president concluded his greeting by saying that “these bonds are the source of inextinguishable courage and strength, and provide hope that we can repair this world.”
Later Monday, President Obama is expected to hold a Passover seder in the White House, making it the third year in a row he had done so, and a second time as president.
The president’s weekly schedule indicated that he and the first lady president and are planned to host some 20 friends and staff members.
Obama, who has promised to conduct a dialogue with the whole world, sends many greetings over the year, including for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and the Persian New Year, Nowruz.
While the Hanukkah party he hosted at the White House was for Jewish community leaders (and was closed to the media), the previous seder was an intimate event for his Jewish campaign workers; a recreation of the makeshift seder in April 2008 – during the campaign, on the roads, in the basement of a hotel in Pennsylvania.
The battle for the nomination against Hillary Clinton was two months away from a decision. Criticism of the controversial statements of the pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, which Obama attended with his family, refused to die down. But at the end of one more grueling day, the Jewish staffers, including Arun Chaudhary, the videographer who documented Obama’s campaign and who is half-Jewish, half-Indian, and Eric Lesser, a former baggage handler on the campaign trail who has since become senior adviser David Axelrod’s aide, were determined to keep the tradition.
Most of the people at the seder were not Jewish, but some continued with Obama to the White House, among them senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Reggie Love. According to nostalgic reports of that historic evening, it is said to have ended with Obama saying the words, “Next year in the White House.”
The next seder did indeed take place in the White House – on the second night of the holiday, after the president had delivered a greeting in which he called the Haggadah “among the most powerful stories of suffering and redemption in human history.”
It was not the hoped-for intimate family event with no wait staff; the White House kitchen went all out. But the first daughters, Malia and Sasha, lived up to their part in the evening’s festivities, searching for the afikoman.
Some Jewish community leaders were at first surprised to hear about the president’s Passover seder. Hanukkah parties at the White House have become a tradition, but the seder did not rank on the list of Washington events to which one must wangle an invitation, because there simply wasn’t one at the presidential level.
Many wondered who would be on this year’s guest list. When it turned out to be a private event, most still quickly and warmly praised the respectful nod to Jewish tradition.
This year’s guest list has not been released yet, but according to reports, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will again not attend, while David Axelrod will be there, along with Valerie Jarrett and one of the younger aides, Herbie Ziskend.
HAPPY PESACH 2010