Seder With the Obamas


Published April 15, 2009, issue of April 24, 2009.
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Four is a fine number when it comes to discussing a Passover Seder. Four questions. Four children. Four cups of wine. So here are four reasons why the Seder held in the White House on the second night of Passover 5769 was notable:

This was the first time a president of the United States attended a Seder in his official home. A Seder reportedly was held during the Clinton administration, but the president himself wasn’t there to drink, dip, dip again and then, of course, eat. This year, President Obama was at the head of the table with his family, and what we can only assume was a lovely roast brisket prepared by the White House chef. (But not as good as your mother’s.)

The venerable Maxwell House Haggadah was the text of choice. This speaks either to a lack of ingenuity by the Seder planners — since there are, oh, about 4,000 more creative Haggadahs — or, more likely, smart strategy. Maxwell House says it has printed 50 million of the little booklets, making it the most widely used Haggadah in the world and, probably, the least likely to offend.

The guest list was not only multi-faith and multicultural — the new norm in Washington — but seemed to be driven by friendship and gratitude, not previously the norm in Washington. The Seder wasn’t held to reward generous donors or political favors but was attended by those who work for the first family and was led by the Jewish staffer who had organized a more impromptu gathering in the basement of a Harrisburg, Pa., hotel during last year’s campaign. Uninvited Jewish supporters were apparently calling the White House in a huff. Too bad. Nice to have a president who doesn’t auction off the matzo.

Lastly, this may have been the only Seder where macaroons were considered a security risk. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Susan Sher, the White House associate counsel who does liaison work with the Jewish community, said her husband had brought macaroons from Chicago but was stopped by security because food cannot be brought into the White House. The start of the Seder was delayed before White House aides were able to “rescue the macaroons,” Sher told JTA.

Now all Obama needs to do is deliver us from the house of (economic) bondage with a firm and outstretched hand.

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