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A Low-Key, High Profile Seder

The Obamas attend a seder at the White House.

By Garance Franke-Ruta
Last night, President Obama held what the White House believes is the first Seder to be hosted by a sitting American president at the White House. A small affair, the private event in the Old Family Dining Room was a kind of reunion for its participants, a number of whom had attended an informal Seder together a year ago in the basement of the Sheraton Hotel in Harrisburg, Penn.

Organized by Eric Lesser, a class of 2007 Harvard graduate who worked as a luggage wrangler and driver on then-candidate Barack Obama's campaign, the 2008 Seder was an impromptu marking of the annual Jewish holiday celebrating the escape from slavery in Egypt. Obama joined the dinner's young organizers in the basement, along with his close longtime friends Valerie Jarrett and Eric Whitaker, who were traveling with him at the time.

At the conclusion of the Seder, Obama and the assembled group jokingly added "Next year in the White House!" after the traditional Seder refrain "Next year in Jerusalem!"

And so it was. Lesser, a campaign legend for his dancing skills and heroic rescues of wayward press suitcases, is now a special assistant to Obama adviser David Axelrod with a West Wing office abutting the president's, and organized the traditional second night of Passover service.

The menu was traditional Eastern European: matzoh ball soup, brisket, roasted chicken, noodle kugel and macaroons for dessert. The White House chefs cooked the food but used recipes provided by the attendees' families.

Attending, beginning on the president's left and going clockwise, were: Samantha Tubman, assistant social secretary; Melissa Winter, the first lady's deputy chief of staff, Sasha Obama, Malia Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Continuing clockwise are: associate White House counsel Susan Sher, her son Evan Moore and Michael Cohen (both obscured); Valerie Jarrett, director of the office of public liason; and Eric Whitaker, a longtime friend of the Obamas (obscured).

On the opposite side of the table, starting on the president's right and continuing counterclockwise, are: Sher's husband Neil Cohen; Laura Moser (Arun Chaudhary's wife); Chaudhary, the White House videographer; Herbie Ziskend, another 2007 college graduate and former campaign baggage handler, now an aide to Vice President Biden; Eric Lesser and his father, Martin Lesser; Lisa Kohnke, deputy director of advance; Dana M. Lewis, the first lady's personal aide; and Obama personal assistant Reggie Love.

The guests using pillows are doing so not because the White House chairs are uncomfortable, but because of the contemporary custom of using pillows to symbolize the Passover service injunction to eat the meal reclining, itself a means of symbolizing being at peace and free.

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 10, 2009; 5:33 PM ET
Categories:  Washington Life  
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Next: Obama Says U.S. Can't Confront Problems Alone


The article does say Pres. Obama "held" the seder, but later makes it clear that he was just a participant (although he was the sponsor).
Anyone concerned about Obama's participation from a Jewish standpoint should ask their rabbi.

Posted by: harveycohen | April 15, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

CORRECTION: I am "outraged" if Obama is not a "natural born" citizen because then he is not legally President of the United States (I couldn't care less about his race or ancestry).

Posted by: JakeD | April 14, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse

You just knew someone would find a reason to be "outraged" over what was surely intended as an affirmative gesture.

stuartk1 is outraged, apparently because goyim aren't, as he believes, supposed to "preside over" a seder (I didn't know the seder had a "president"... guess we live and learn)... seder being a deeply religious gathering, and gentiles being of the wrong religion, I suppose, to celebrate the freedom of anyone else.

asprey is outraged because he thinks there is already too much religiosity in U.S. politics (but apparently without any special regard or disfavor for any particular religion).

JakeD, meanwhile, is outraged because he believes Obama is the wrong nationality to be President. At least, thats what he SAYS his objection is.

And a few people are outraged because they disapprove of the menu. Noodles for passover? Outrageous!

Posted by: Observer44 | April 13, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Organized Eric Lesser organized the traditional second night of Passover service.
Let's see, the dinner was organized by a Jewish person, was attended by Jewish people, recipes of the Jewish families were used then why is it a problem for anyone?
And there are Passover "noodles":
Passover Cooking: Potato Starch Noodles

Posted by: katerinaDeligiannis | April 13, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

For President Obama to preside at a Passover "seder" at the White House is an insult and a travesty. I would have expected his Jewish advisors to have informed him of the fact that a seder is a deeply religious ritual which entails the retelling of the exodus from Egypt; it certainly is NOT simply a dinner party, or a social occasion. For Mr. Obama to presume to hold this seder would be the equivalent of me (a Jew) presuming to preside over a Mass in my home. The whole idea is outrageous. Obama's Jewish advisors (my ostensible brethren) should be deeply and profoundly ashamed of themselves for attempting to use a deeply meaningful religious occasion for their own petty, pandering purposes.

Posted by: stuartk1 | April 13, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

P.S. to asprey:

Every Inauguration has had an invocation -- Presidents have 1st Amendment rights too -- get used to it.

Posted by: JakeD | April 13, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I am indeed "consistent" and, if Obama is not a "natural born" citizen -- therefore a usurper pResident not Constitutionally qualified to hold the office -- who exactly is the oppressor and who is the oppressee? Notwithstanding all the jokes, I do not have OCD.

Posted by: JakeD | April 13, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Hey Mr. President,

Your inauguration was awash in prayers, you're giving even more of MY tax dollars to tax-exempt religions via faith-based initiatives, and now a seder in the White House.

How about a brunch for non-theists like me! I am weary of supernaturalism which hasn't done a lick of good for this planet.

Posted by: asprey | April 13, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Noodle kugel? Noodles are not kosher for passover.

Posted by: PaintTheTownBlue | April 13, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

The US can't confront problems because Obama and the rest of Washington DC refuses to admit their guilt in the slaughter of innocents world wide. Banning contributions by Muslims to assist Palestinians but giving the thumbs up to Zionist Jews who are hell bent on exterminating Palestinians speaks way too loud of who controls Washington DC. Crying crocodile tears about the Israeli disregard for human rights in slaughtering the innocent while sending the ammo to Israel to do the job speaks loud and clear who rules our government.

Posted by: chkpointe | April 11, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

As a new administration celebrates the brotherhood of man, the saboteurs and Dr. Strangeloves lurk in the dark corners of the bureaucracy...


Special bonus: the original commentary written for "The Fix" that has twice elicited the "held for blog owner" message (?) and has failed to post here.

OR (if link is corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 11, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

President Obama is the great includer. Conservatives are the great dividers.

Posted by: Skye1er | April 11, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

thebobbob, JakeD is too busy repeatedly washing his hands to answer you.

Posted by: nodebris | April 11, 2009 2:26 AM | Report abuse

Yo Jake D.
Passover is about freedom from oppression. Freedom from obsession. It's time to free yourself from your own mental prison.

Happy Passover

Posted by: thebobbob | April 11, 2009 1:51 AM | Report abuse

I senrt the Obamas my Bubbe's special Passover macaroon recipe:

1. Open can.
2. Serve.
3. Eat.


Posted by: MikeLicht | April 10, 2009 11:22 PM | Report abuse

we can always count you JakeD for being consistent.

Posted by: kashabear | April 10, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

mean = meal (and, of course, Obama was not "President" last night if he is not a "natural born" citizen)

Posted by: JakeD | April 10, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

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