How Is the White House Seder Different From All Others?

First Family and Friends Put Own Spin on Passover Tradition

Welcoming Elijah: First Lady Michelle Obama lights candles to begin last year’s White House Seder. She and her husband will host another Seder this year on Monday night.
Official White House Photo Pete Souza
Welcoming Elijah: First Lady Michelle Obama lights candles to begin last year’s White House Seder. She and her husband will host another Seder this year on Monday night.

By Devra Ferst

Published March 21, 2013, issue of March 29, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Ziskend takes charge of breaking the first matzo and hiding the afikomen each year. “It’s no different than you hiding it at your grandmother’s house, except there’s a Secret Service person watching you stash it away. And the house is a bit bigger,” he said. Malia and Sasha Obama recite the Four Questions. They also hunt down the afikomen in exchange for small gifts — like a rubber chicken for their dog, Bo, and bottles of nail polish — instead of money.

“It’s a great honor, but it’s become like [a] Seder we have at home,” Ziskend said.

The White House staff adds important touches to preserve that atmosphere. There is, for example, the 1950s-era Seder plate complete with illustrations from Chaudhary’s mother-in-law, instead of a fancy silver or crystal option.

But the most notable staff effort is the food. The menu consists of recipes submitted by Seder participants. Cristeta Comerford, the White House’s executive chef, re-creates them, incorporating produce from the White House garden when possible.

“It is always challenging to duplicate a grandmother’s recipe,” Comerford said. “Their years of expertise cooking a traditional recipe passed down from generation to generation is quite tough to duplicate.”

According to Lesser, Comerford succeeds. The first time he tucked into his family’s carrot soufflé at the Seder, it was a “jarring experience,” Lesser recalled. “I’m sitting in the dining room of the White House, with portraits of first ladies and a beautiful setting and… I had a flashback to the house I grew up in.”

Previous Seders have also featured a roast chicken breast recipe from Ziskend’s grandmother, and a rich matzo ball soup recipe from Patricia Winter, the mother of Seder attendee Melissa Winter, a deputy assistant to the president and senior adviser to the first lady.

This year’s menu will include brisket and kugel, along with new matzo ball soup and haroset recipes. The haroset recipe, courtesy of Patricia Winter, includes apples, walnuts, ginger and Manischewitz wine. “Of course,” said Melissa Winter, “[my mother] thinks I should go down to the White House kitchen before the Seder to taste it and make sure it’s just right.”

Lesser Family Carrot Souffle

Winter Family Haroset

Ziskend Family Matzo Ball Soup

Ziskend Family Chick Roast Recipe

Raspberry Genache Marjolaine

Contact Devra Ferst at ferst@forward.com or follow her on twitter @devraferst


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.