White House Seder

Seder Candle Lighting

Michelle Obama lights candles at the 2012 Seder. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

The Obama family and a few Jewish former staffers will celebrate a small, low key Seder in the Family Dining Room at the White House tonight (Thursday night, April 28, 2016). No other VIPs are invited. (Obama was travelling overseas during the beginning of Passover.) This will be the Obamas’ last Seder in the White House, ending what has become a yearly tradition.

Nine years ago, on Erev Passover, then Senator Obama and his staff had an exhausting schedule, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Pennsylvania. Several Jewish staffers realized that they were not going to be able to get home to their families in time to celebrate the first night of Passover. They decided to have a make shift Seder in the hotel where they were spending the night. One of them happened to mention their plans to Obama.

The staffers gathered together in a small basement room with borrowed Passover Haggadahs and a chicken leg in place of a lamb shank bone. Suddenly, a group of Secret Service agents burst in. They quickly checked over the room and then Obama walked through the door.

The Seder was a welcome break from the hectic campaign. They were all very tired and the polls showed Obama was trailing in the Pennsylvania race. (It would turn out that Hillary Clinton won that year in Pennsylvania by a substantial margin, just as she did again this week.) But for a short time, they could relax, tell jokes and recount the deliverance from slavery to freedom. This was particularly meaningful because sitting at the table was the man who could become the first African American president. They ended the Seder with words that turned out to be prophetic: “Next year in the White House!”

Those staff members found jobs in the Obama White House and later moved on to other organizations. However, they still return every year and tell the same stories and the same jokes.

This article is based on a story in “The Guardian” U.K. newspaper 4/28/2016

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