Skip To Content

Barack Obama and the Ultimate Jewish Schmear Tactic

My interview with President Obama was as serious as you’d expect of a man who is professorially cerebral and gravitates toward long, thoughtful answers to complicated policy questions. Iran, Israel, domestic politics — all were on the agenda when I met with him in the Oval Office last Friday.

READ: Have I Got a Bagel for You, Barack!

But I couldn’t leave it at that.

What shall I ask the president, I surreptitiously queried one of my daughters the night before, the closest I was allowed to come to crowd sourcing, given the exclusive nature of this interview.

Ask him to name his favorite bagel, she replied with her usual sense of humor.

Read: Full Transcript of Jane Eisner’s Interview With Barack Obama

And so, as we wrapped up an interview that went longer than I had expected, I crammed in the question. Obama was starting to rise from his high back chair, but he sat back down and took the question with relish.

“I was always a big poppy seed guy,” he told me.

Read: President Barack Obama’s Historic Interview With the Forward

Poppy seed, I repeated, wanting to make sure I got this right. We were on the record, after all.

“So the poppy seed bagel at H&H — which somebody told me they closed,” he went on.

“They closed,” confirmed Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communication, who was also in the room for this important discussion.

(For the record: the H&H Bagels store on Broadway and 80th Street in Manhattan, across the street from famous Zabar’s, did close in January 2012. It’s been replaced by a Verizon Wireless store. Of course.)

The President pronounced this news “shocking.” He recalled that as a college student, he’d walk all the way down Broadway on weekends to get a bagel from Columbia University, about 40 blocks north.

And what do you like on that poppy seed bagel, I asked?

“Just a schmear,” he replied.

I repeated his answer for accuracy, not wanting to unwittingly instigate a topping-on-the-bagel journalistic scandal.

“Lox and bagels okay,” he elaborated, “but generally just your basic schmear.”

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover. 

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we need 500 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Our Goal: 500 gifts during our Passover Pledge Drive!

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.