Last Monday the Obamas hosted a Passover Seder dinner at the White House as they have since the president took office in 2009. Although the Obamas began attending Seders in Chicago during the mid 1980s when Barack Obama was a law professor at the University of Chicago, the story behind the tradition of Seder dinner at the White House and the unique way in which it has evolved is a rich and interesting one.
It was in the midst of the 2008 Pennsylvania primary when three young staffers Arun Chaudhary, Eric Lesser and Herbie Ziskend made arrangements to meet at 10 pm in the basement conference room at the Sheraton Hotel in Harrisbug to share their Passover meal. Somehow the aides had managed to collect several Seder items: a burnt bone from the hotel kitchen, Maxwell House Haggadot, shmura matzo squirreled away from Penn Hillel by Lesser’s cousin, and a bottle of Manischewitz wine and just as they began their preparations in walked Senator Obama.
Eric Lesser recalled that night:
He peppered us with questions, keeping with traditions of a Seder. ... We had a great time. It was a very special moment … in the middle of an exhausting campaign.Lesser went on to say that at the conclusion of the Seder they all raised a glass and said, “Next year in Jerusalem.” However, Obama raised his glass and said "Next year in the White House.”
The service is shortened in consideration of the president's busy schedule and there are some notable differences in the ceremony itself. Dr. Eric Whitaker, a personal friend of the Obamas reads the Emancipation Proclamation aloud every year.
“There are interesting and poignant similarities between the Passover story and the African-American experience, and that’s not lost on the participants,” Lesser explained. The Seder, he noted, is “a moment to reflect on justice and themes of redemption and freedom in biblical, historical and present contexts.”Before the holiday, President Obama released this statement of hope:
As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continuing the hard work of repairing the world.Speaking last week in Jerusalem, the president spoke to the resonance that Passover has with the African American community:
...the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image to emerge from the grip of bondage to reach liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights movement into today.The Obamas’ ceremony on Monday included a Seder plate given to first lady Michelle Obama by Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The 135th Annual White House Easter Egg Roll will take place tomorrow, Monday, April 1st on the South Lawn of the White House. The focus this year is on promoting health and wellness with the theme, “Be Healthy, Be Active, Be You!”
“In the middle of school when we were doing math, Mrs. Lee came in and said, ‘You have a special phone call from the White House,’ ” Kevin said of the news from Assistant Head of Schools Karen Lee.Kevin and his family will attend the Egg Roll at the invitation of the White House.
Kevin says he plans to be either an artist or a talk show host.
If you would like to watch the annual Egg Roll which begins at 7:30 AM and ends at 6:45 PM eastern, you can see the live broadcast at White House Easter Egg Roll