Why Is This Night Different?: Thoughts on Tu B’Shvat

By Richard H. Schwartz

By מרכז להב"ה מגאר Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25110674

Olive Tree. Photo: Pikiwiki Israel.

One of the highlights of the Passover seder is the recitation of the four questions which consider how the night of Passover differs from all the other nights of the year. Many questions are also appropriate for Tu B’Shvat, which starts on Friday evening, February 10, in 2017, because of the many ways that this holiday differs from Passover and all other nights of the year. [Read more…]

Passover Seder & Dinner

Congregation Hesed Shel Emet will host a Passover Seder and Dinner on Friday, April 22, 2016 at 6:30 pm.  This event is open to the public and people of all faiths are encouraged and welcome to attend.

Please purchase tickets before April 17, 2016.

Adults – $25; Kids (5-13) – $18; (under 5) – $5.00  (a nominal fee will be added at checkout.)

 

JSPAN Haggadah Supplement: The Immigration Crisis

supplementThe 2016 Jewish Social Policy Action Network Haggadah Supplement edited by Steven Sussman and Kenneth Myers is entitled “The Immigration Crisis: A Pesach Seder Reflection for 2016” and focuses on immigrants and refugees. Their plight calls to us at this season of the Jewish year when we remember that we were exiled from our homeland and enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, and then stateless nomads for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, at the mercy of the elements, often losing faith as danger surrounded us.

At your Seder, consider the crisis in Europe and what we can do to relieve the suffering of refugees.

The supplement is now available for download.

[Read more…]

My Republican Haggadah: An oldie but goodie

Editor’s Note: This “Republican Haggadah” first appeared in the Huffington Post in 2012. However, except for the references to the 2012 Presidential election the humor is timeless. Enjoy!

— by Steve Sheffey

Jewish history is littered with sects, groups of people kind of like Jews who celebrate the same holidays and have many of the same customs, yet are somehow different.

Today’s sect is known as “Jewish Republicans,” few in number but very loud. Like most Jews, they celebrate Pesach, but they’ve got their own Haggadah. The differences between their Haggadah and ours are instructive.

After drinking the first cup of wine, most Jews wash their hands, but the Republicans stay seated and wait for the water to trickle down.

Most Jews then eat a green vegetable, but the Republican Haggadah follows the ruling of Rabbi Reagan that ketchup qualifies as a vegetable. Ketchup is not green, but green is the last thing any Republican would want to be. (Reagan does have this in common with Moses: Neither ever set foot in the land of Israel.)

More after the jump.
Next we break the middle of the three matzot. Most Jews break the middle matzah into two roughly equal pieces, replacing the smaller piece on the Seder plate and hiding the larger piece as the afikoman. The Republican Haggadah asks the leader (or in Republican parlance, the Seder CEO) to keep 99 percent of the matzah for himself and let the other participants share the remaining 1 percent.

The Torah speaks of four sons, but the Republican Haggadah speaks of four candidates: The simple candidate (Santorum), the wicked candidate (Paul), the candidate who does not know how to answer (Romney), and the simple candidate who thinks he’s the wise candidate (Gingrich). They have no wise candidates.

The highlight of the Republican Haggadah is its version of “Dayenu” — “it would have been enough.” The Republican motto when it comes to President Obama is “nothing is enough” — no matter how much President Obama does for Israel, it’s never enough for some of our Republican friends:

President Obama has called for the removal of Syrian President Assad.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama has done more than any other president to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama increased security assistance to Israel to record levels.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama boycotted Durban II and Durban III.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama has taken U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama cast his only veto in the U.N. against the one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama opposed the Goldstone Report.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama immediately intervened to rescue Israelis trapped in the Egyptian embassy.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama gave orders to give Israel “whatever it needs” to put out the Carmel fire.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama maintained the U.S. policy of ambiguity on Israel’s nuclear weapons.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama has repeatedly condemned Palestinian incitement against Israel and attempts to delegitimize Israel.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

President Obama pulled out of joint exercises with Turkey after Turkey excluded Israel.
But that’s not enough for our Republican friends.

There’s probably nothing President Obama can do to convince some Republicans that he’s pro-Israel. If President Obama split the Sea of Reeds and walked through it dry-shod, they’d accuse him of not being able to swim. They made their mind up before he was elected that he could not be trusted and they ignore everything that contradicts their biases.

The ultimate message of the real Haggadah is hope (sound familiar?). Let’s hope that just as the vast majority of American Jews voted for Barack Obama in 2008, the vast majority of us will remember who we are and what we value and vote to re-elect President Obama in 2012.

JSPAN Issues Haggadah Supplement for 2014

Though the goal of absolute equality may be impossible to realize, we learn from Yachatz that is it incumbent upon us to strive for equality.

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network has released its annual Haggadah Supplement for 2014, titled A Passage to Equality. The theme is overcoming inequality of opportunity.

Assembled and edited by three lawyers — Stephen Sussman, Jeffrey Pasek and Ken Myers — the Supplement addresses the Passover as a passage from slavery to equality, and seeks to provide additional relevance to the story with modern prayers and readings. The readings take up the meaning of Zdakah, how we address poverty and economic inequality as a society, women’s rights issues, and other modern conditions that impact lives. The Haggadah Supplement provides fresh ideas and opportunities for discussion during the Seder.

The Supplement is a 12-page booklet, including photos. Download it as a pdf file for viewing or printing.
[Read more…]

First-Ever Presidential Passover Video Greeting

— by Jarrod Bernstein

Starting tomorrow night, the Jewish community in the United States, Israel, and throughout the world will come together to celebrate the holiday of Passover.

President and Mrs. Obama will join them, continuing their tradition of hosting a small Seder at the White House. By now, the story of how that tradition began has been told and retold, but in the spirit of Passover, I’ll tell it again: 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. This year, he also added a new touch, a video message to Jews everywhere wishing them Chag Sameach as they continue their own traditions or start new ones this Passover.

Transcript follows the jump.
I’d like to wish a happy holiday to all those celebrating Passover.

The story of the Exodus is thousands of years old, but it remains as relevant as ever. Throughout our history, there are those who have targeted the Jewish people for harm — a fact we were so painfully reminded of just a few weeks ago in Toulouse. Just as throughout history, there have been those who have sought to oppress others because of their faith, ethnicity or color of their skin.

But tomorrow night, Jews around the world will renew their faith that liberty will ultimately prevail over tyranny. They will give thanks for the blessings of freedom, while remembering those who are still not free. And they will ask one of our life’s most difficult questions: Once we have passed from bondage to liberty, how do we make the most of all that God has given us?

This question may never be resolved, but throughout the years, the search for answers has deepened the Jewish people’s commitment to repairing the world, and inspired American Jews to help make our union more perfect. And the story of that first Exodus has also inspired those who are not Jewish with common hopes, and a common sense of obligation.

So this is a very special tradition — and it’s one I’m proud to be taking part of tomorrow night, at the fourth annual White House Seder. Led by Jewish members of my staff, we’ll retell the story of the Exodus, listen to our youngest guest ask the four questions, and of course, look forward to a good bowl of matzo ball soup.

Michelle and I are proud to celebrate with friends here at home and around the world, including those in the State of Israel.

So on behalf of the entire Obama family, Chag Sameach.

Republicans At Your Seder? Four More Questions!

At many seders, the topic of politics will more than likely come up-often because one of the guests received one of the many false and malicious emails floating around the internet. That dinner guest should be replied to with these four questions:

  1. Why has President Obama provided record amounts of military aid to Israel — including double the amount of supplemental funding for missile defense programs, like the Iron Dome, that are saving Israeli lives today?
  2. Why has President Obama worked so hard and succeeded at uniting the world against Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, while voting with Israel 100% of the time at the United Nations — earning the plaudits of Israel’s leaders?
  3. Why has President Obama achieved the historic passage of “Obamacare,” which has already permitted 2.5 million young adults to remain on their parents’ health care plans — and will end discrimination for those with pre-existing conditions, ultimately providing coverage to 34 million more Americans?
  4. Why has President Obama fought to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid, keeping our commitment to our seniors — and our collective commitment to help those in need through shared responsibility?

The answer to all of these questions is:

President Obama cares deeply about the safety and security of the Jewish state. He has been Israel’s leading advocate from day one and has done more than any other President to meaningfully bolster its defenses and provide for its future. He also cares deeply about the welfare of all Americans, including our seniors and the needy — and our commitment to them.

For these reasons, President Obama deserves our thanks.

Download this article as a PDF.

Issue Oriented Seders: On Passover Hunger Is Not A Game

Let all who are hungry come and eat.

With 1 in 6 Americans struggling to put nutritious food on the table every day, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger hosted Members of Congress, Administration officials, and national faith and anti-poverty leaders at the National Hunger Seder at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. Seder participants made the case for protecting and strengthening funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) as legislators begin to negotiate the 2012 Farm Bill Reauthorization.

SNAP and MAZON have also developed a version of the 2012 Hunger Seder you can using in your own home to promote “hunger awareness and activism.

Similarly, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network develops issue oriented material each year you can use to enrich your seder. Supplements to the traditional Haggadah relate the biblical story of the Exodus to current events and issues.

  • The 2012 Freedom Supplement, comprised of 16 pages with illustrations, is now available without charge. The Freedom Seder Supplement celebrates emerging freedom movements around the world with poems, texts and prayers. Editors Stephen C. Sussman Esq. and Kenneth R. Myers Esq. have drawn from far-ranging sources, from Lord Byron to Tibet. Each of the readings includes suggestions keying it into the traditional Seder service.
  • In 2010 JSPAN released its first Supplement, entitled We were strangers, on the theme of immigration in history and in the United States.
  • In 2011 the JSPAN Supplement, This is the bread of poverty, brought the focus to hunger here and around the world. The 2012 “Freedom Seder” takes up the human longing for freedom that is spreading around the globe, and concludes with four resolutions that we as American Jews can meaningfully adopt.

More about the National Hunger Seder after the jump.
“Jewish people all over the world begin their Passover Seders by inviting ‘all who are hungry [to] come and eat,'” said Abby J. Leibman, MAZON’s President & CEO. “While we know we cannot include 50 million Americans in our individual Seders, these words remind us that, as a society, we are responsible for them – a powerful and timely message as Congress considers the Farm Bill and the fate of our nutrition safety net.”

The National Hunger Seder adapts the traditional Passover Seder, telling the story of the Exodus with an emphasis on the moral imperative to end hunger in America. The National Hunger Seder is part of the 4th annual MAZON/JCPA Hunger Seder mobilization, which includes more than 45 Hunger Seder events taking place in communities across the country around the Passover holiday.

“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,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The enormity of hunger in our country belies our wealth and abundance, but can be stemmed. That will be the message in communities across the country as part of this unique mobilization. Over the past four years, Hunger Seders have brought together not only Jews, but hunger advocates, faith and political leaders to build awareness and support for the tools available to end hunger in America.”  

Participants in the National Hunger Seder included USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), as well as representatives from the White House. Also attending were delegates from Bread for the World, Half in Ten, Alliance to End Hunger, National Council of Churches, American Jewish World Service, Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice, National Council of Jewish Women, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, JCPA, MAZON, Jewish Primary Day School and others.

In addition to the National Hunger Seder and Hunger Seder mobilization led by the JCPA and MAZON, other Jewish social justice organizations are hosting Passover Seders to raise awareness about food and justice issues, including a Food and Justice Seder being hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice and in cooperation with JCPA and MAZON.

Celebrate Passover with Recipes from the White House!

— by Max Samis

In preparation for the upcoming Passover holiday, President Barack Obama invited members of the Jewish community to the White House for a special cooking demonstration and discussion. Sponsored by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Endowment for the Humanities, White House chef Bill Yosses worked with Jewish chef Joan Nathan to demonstrate how to make, among other dishes, apple and pear charoset and matzo chremsel.

Haaretz writer Vered Guttman was one of the guests invited to the event. Guttman wrote:

Before the seder each year, guests are asked to send Bill and White House executive chef Cris Comerford their own family’s Passover recipes. The chefs then design a menu for the seder and prepare the dishes according to the guests’ recipes.

In previous years they served the classics: haroset and brisket. When we met Wednesday. Bill said they were still working on this year’s menu. He did know, however, which desserts would be served: A flourless chocolate cake (which he promises will be on the White House website before the holiday) and a delicious sounding apricot roll cake, that he was kind enough to share the recipe with me. Bill gets extra points for a dessert that is not only fabulous, but also inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine. Does the president eat Jewish or Israeli food during the year? I asked.

‘The president LOVES Israeli couscous!’ Bill didn’t have to think much before he answered. Since Israeli couscous is one of the most popular foods imported from Israel, it is often the target of boycott threats by anti-Israeli groups.

More after the jump.


Joan Nathan and Bill Yosses preparing haroset together at the White House. Photo by Vered Guttman

In addition to the President’s love of Israeli couscous, Guttman spoke with Yosses about other Israeli foods used in the White House. Guttman wrote:

Obama keeps a very open mind about food and likes to try new dishes, Bill told me. He added that the Israeli produce imported to the U.S. is known at the White House kitchen to be of highest quality and the chefs like to use Israeli vegetables and fruit. He could not tell me where they get their produce, as the White House chefs are instructed not to reveal their suppliers for security reasons.

As Joan began her demonstration, she told us that the Passover seder is the holiday most-observed by American Jews. Joan herself will host 44 guests at her house in Washington next week. ‘Nowhere in the world, except for Israel and the U.S., do Jews feel that comfortable,’ Joan said as she started her cooking demonstration.

It has been a tradition since the 2008 presidential campaign for the Obama family to host a private seder for their Jewish staffers. In a 2010 article in the New York Times, Jodi Kantor wrote about the seder’s roots in Pennsylvania and how it has grown. Kantor wrote:

One evening in April 2008, three low-level staff members from the Obama presidential campaign — a baggage handler, a videographer and an advance man — gathered in the windowless basement of a Pennsylvania hotel for an improvised Passover Seder.

Suddenly they heard a familiar voice. ‘Hey, is this the Seder?’ Barack Obama  asked, entering the room.

So begins the story of the Obama Seder, now one of the newest, most intimate and least likely of White House traditions. When Passover begins at sunset on Monday evening, Mr. Obama and about 20 others will gather for a ritual that neither the rabbinic sages nor the founding fathers would recognize.

As the White House seder grows in scope and tradition, American Jews can be proud that the President of the United States will once again be observing Passover in the White House.

Kol b’Seder: Obama’s Passover Wishes


The President called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today to convey his best wishes before the start of Passover.  Noting that he would host a seder at the White House, the President recalled that the story of Passover is one of liberation and freedom, and expressed his hope that the Israeli people would be able to celebrate in peace.  The two leaders also discussed U.S.-Israeli cooperation on counter-terrorism, how best to move forward in efforts to advance Middle East peace, and the recent violence near the Gaza strip.

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his deep appreciation for U.S. funding for the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which he noted has successfully intercepted several rockets aimed at Israeli communities.  The President congratulated the Prime Minister on this impressive Israeli technological achievement and expressed his pride that Israeli-American cooperation made it possible.  With the signing of the fiscal year 2011 budget appropriation, the President approved $205 million in U.S. funding for Iron Dome, which is above the annual package of Foreign Military Financing for Israel.

The President and the Prime Minister agreed to stay in close touch on the range of issues facing the United States and Israel.

Passover Greetings from the President to the Jewish Community and Comments from David Harris follow the jump.

President Barach Obama

My family and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating the sacred festival of Passover.

On Monday evening, Jewish families and their friends in America, Israel, and around the world will gather around the Seder table and retell the story of the Exodus, one of the most powerful stories of suffering and redemption in history. The story of Passover – which recalls the passage of the children of Israel from bondage and repression to freedom and liberty – inspires hope that those oppressed and enslaved can become free. The Seder, with its rich traditions and rituals, instructs each generation to remember its past, while appreciating the beauty of freedom and the responsibility it entails.

This year, that ancient instruction is reflected in the daily headlines as we see modern stories of social transformation and liberation unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. Against the backdrop of change, we continue to pray for peace between Israel and her neighbors, while reaffirming our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.

As Jewish families gather for this joyous celebration of freedom, let us all be thankful for the gifts that have been bestowed upon us, and let us work to alleviate the suffering, poverty, injustice, and hunger of those who are not yet free. Chag Sameach.

David Harris (NJDC):

Tonight, as we gather at Passover seders throughout the world and remember our exodus from Egypt, recite the four questions and nosh on Passover delicacies, the First Family will be doing the same.

The Obama family will gather with some of their closest Jewish friends and several of the President’s most trusted Jewish advisors to celebrate the third annual White House Passover seder, which will be led by none other than President Barack Obama himself. Obama’s seders have garnered a reputation for following the traditions in the Haggadah, with every ritual of the seder being carried out (Sasha and Malia typically recite the four questions). Obama and the White House kitchen staff also make sure that the food served on the table would live up to your grandmother’s standards — even the gefilte fish. Above is a photo from last year’s seder.

Obama has been hosting Passover seders since his Presidential campaign and has made a point to keep the tradition going as President. All American Jews should take pride in knowing that our President deeply respects Jewish tradition — so much so that he and First Lady Michele Obama enthusiastically celebrate with us multiple times during the year, including during May — which has been designated as Jewish Heritage Month. And all of this is in addition to the intimate meetings that regularly occur between Obama and Jewish communal leaders — including leadership from an array of American Jewish organizations, including NJDC.