This year, President Barack Obama and the White House joined with the Jewish people across the world to celebrate the Passover holiday. On Friday, President and First Lady Michelle Obama joined with Jewish members of the administration for the fourth annual White House seder, a tradition stemming from the 2008 campaign. Jarrod Bernstein, the Director of Jewish Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement for the White House, told the story on the White House official blog:
In April of 2008, the President and his staff were on the trail in Pennsylvania in the midst of a long primary campaign. Weary from a long day of work and away from their families, a small group of staffers came together to hold an impromptu Seder. When then-Senator Obama got wind of the Seder, he gathered some other staff and friends and decided to join. At the end of the Seder, the President followed the traditional ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ declaration with a pledge of his own – ‘Next year in the White House.’ Each year since, he has followed through on that promise.
Susan Sher, former Chief of Staff to the First Lady and a current NJDC Board member, had the honor of attending the White House Seder with the President—and sat next to the President in fact. Ms. Sher shared a few brief thoughts about the experience:
It was wonderful to be back at the White House, sharing in the warmth and beauty of the White House Seder with the President, the First Family, friends, and current and former staff. Of course it was a thrill to sit next to the President, who was engaged, thoughtful, and knowledgeable as we all participated and took turns reading from the Maxwell House Haggadah and sharing our Passover traditions and recipes.
In addition to the White House seder, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted the second Food and Justice Seder last week. In cooperation with the nonprofit organization Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, USDA officials commemorated the holiday with messages of the importance of ending hunger across the nation. Max Finberg, Director of the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Agriculture, wrote:
Rabbi Sydney Mintz of California and Rabbi Jack Moline of Virginia led the service, which brought together guests from the non-profit and Jewish communities, as well as USDA and Administration officials. The first part of the event was titled ‘The bread of poverty,’ and focused on hunger and food security. Representatives from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs connected the ancient Israelites’ experience of hunger to the modern-day food insecurity faced by nearly 49 million Americans who struggle to put enough food on the table at some point during the year. USDA’s nutrition assistance programs – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, National School Lunch Program and others – serve one in four Americans. Seder participants renewed their commitment to ensuring that everyone has access to the nutritious food they need to lead healthy lives.
Among the attendees at the Food and Justice Seder was NJDC Board member Greg Rosenbaum, the President and CEO of Empire Kosher Poultry. Empire Kosher Poultry served as one of the event’s sponsors. Click here to read Washington Jewish Week’s coverage of the event.
In addition to the seder, Obama recorded the first-ever Presidential Passover video greeting, which is available below and on the White House blog. In the video, Obama noted the relevance of the Exodus story, and commented on how that history has “deepened the Jewish commitment to repairing the world.”
Members of Congress also joined together to welcome the holiday. On March 29, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and MAZON held a National Hunger Seder, meant to shed light on the importance of fighting hunger across the United States, particularly through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). JTA wrote:
Lawmakers that participated in the seder included Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon also was in attendance.
Rabbi Steve Gutow, the JCPA’s president, said in a statement that ‘at a time of such startlingly high food insecurity, it is unconscionable to consider limiting access to a program like SNAP that not only keeps millions out of hunger and poverty, but does so with incredible efficiency and success.’
Finally, multiple members of the Obama administration – and some of the White House chefs – have shared some of their favorite Passover recipes. Here are some recipes spotlighted by the White House: