Half-Jewish On His President’s Side

Videographer Arun Chaudhary Went to Every White House Seder

Ready For His Close-Up: Chaudhary poses for his former employer.
Courtesy Arun Chaudhary
Ready For His Close-Up: Chaudhary poses for his former employer.

By Adam Langer

Published October 30, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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No, because you’re constantly seeing the president through other people’s eyes. That’s what allows you to never lose the reverence for the office. When you went into the White House, you could be grumpy, tired. When you’d leave, it would be dusk and you would watch people looking in, taking photos through the fence, wondering who you are, what you were doing. It was an amazingly special experience.

So let’s talk about Seders. You were a part of all five Seders that President Obama held, starting in Iowa.

Well, the Passover stories are pretty celebrated. But there’s another holiday story that hasn’t been written about that much. It’s a Rosh Hashanah story. The president had just returned from Hawaii. He had been on vacation, and some of us who hadn’t gone with him went to Reno [Nev.] a day early to meet him. It was September 2008. So David Katz (campaign photographer), Eric Lesser (assistant to David Axelrod) and I were all on the same plane, and we were like, “What’re we gonna do? It’s Rosh Hashanah; we gotta do something.” We did a lot of Google searches of Jewish delis. Usually, wherever you go, there’s gonna be one. In Lake Tahoe, there’s definitely one. On Hanukkah in Des Moines [Iowa] in 2007, I bought a menorah for the office at a Judaica shop. I thought Reno would be the same way. But there was only something called the Big Apple Deli in the middle of one of the most dilapidated casinos. So Eric, David and I went, and not a Jew had worked in that joint in the last 20 years. But they were super helpful. They got us apples, honey, everything we needed.

How did the Passover Seders transform over the years?

The biggest development was it became more like coming home for your family Seder: Every year, I did a big speech about the Hillel Sandwich, how it was an amazing technological breakthrough for Judaism — we can get all of our stuff done in one bite. One year, I was like: “Ahh, forget it. We’re running late. I’ll let it go.” The president was like, “No, you gotta do your speech.” It became like a family ritual.

What was your speech?

It was about how the Hillel Sandwich predates the Earl of Sandwich by a millennium. It’s not spoken of too much, but the Jews invented the sandwich and it wasn’t for fun — it was for religious significance. We were able to have our matzo with everything inside it. Hillel was a genius.


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