Obama to host Seder Thursday night
HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, Jerusalem Post correspondent , THE JERUSALEM POST
US President Barack Obama will celebrate Passover Thursday night with staff and friends in what is believed to be the first White House Seder attended by an American president.
The event was slipped onto the president's public schedule Tuesday night with little fanfare, following a letter signed by Obama earlier in the day wishing Americans who mark the day a "peaceful and relaxing holiday."
While presidential proclamations in honor of Passover have been common throughout the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, this year's Seder is believed to be the first of its kind.
"I'm really happy to hear about it," said Steve Rabinowitz, who once led a staff Seder in the Clinton White House but didn't know of any White House Seder in which the president had personally taken part before now. "It's been an extremely open White House to all faith communities, certainly including ours."
William Daroff, who runs the United Jewish Communities' Washington office, recalled that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt snuck out the back door of the White House in 1943 to avoid seeing rabbis marching out front to demand US action to save European Jews from the Nazis.
"Sixty-six years later the President of the United States is spending Thursday evening with his friends and family celebrating the liberation and survival of the Jewish people," Daroff noted, calling the event "a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America.
"Jews are a vital component in the mosaic that is American culture and society. Our welcome through the front door, and the dining room door, of the White House speaks to the inclusiveness of today's America and of President Obama," he said. "This night is indeed different from all other nights."
In his letter, Obama called the story of Jews' ascent from slavery to freedom in the Land of Israel as "among the most powerful stories of suffering and redemption in human history," accompanied by rituals and symbols that indicate "the beauty of freedom and the responsibility it entails."
He also said the holiday presented a message for all humankind. "As part of a larger global community, we all must work to ensure that our brothers and sisters of every race, religion, culture and nationality are free from bondage and repression, and are able to live in peace."
He concluded his letter with the traditional Hebrew greeting "chag sameach," or happy holiday.
Though Passover starts on Wednesday evening, Obama will be hosting the second Seder, on Thursday night, apparently so that those in attendance can celebrate with their families on the first night.
The guest list was not immediately available, though it is likely to include top Obama advisors David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, both of whom are Jewish, as well as some of the key Jewish donors to Obama's presidential campaign.
Rabinowitz said that though he hadn't been invited, "I'm only sorry that I won't be there to see the president and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel say at the same time, 'Once we were all slaves. Now we are all free.'"