The Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff Passover seder: brisket, gefilte fish and the Maxwell House Haggadah
What made Friday night different from all other nights at the home of Vice President Kamala Harris?
WASHINGTON — What made Friday night different from all other nights at the home of Vice President Kamala Harris?
The answer to this “ma nishtana” question asked as we Jews observe Passover this week: It was the first known time a Passover seder was held at the Naval Observatory vice presidential residence. And this happened because Harris is married to Doug Emhoff, who is the first Jew to be the spouse of a president or vice president.
According to a White House official, the menu for the Passover meal consisted of matzoh ball soup; gefilte fish with horseradish; salmon; salad; brisket; chicken marsala; carrot tzimmes and potato kugel.
When I reported on the Obama-era seders I found great interest from readers on what Haggadah was used after, in 2009, I broke the news it was the Maxwell House Haggadah. It was initially published in 1932 as a promotion for the coffee maker. Maxwell House coffee is now a brand of Kraft Heinz, based in Chicago.
Because of its simplicity — and it was free at the supermarket — the Maxwell House Haggadah caught on for folks who wanted a no-frills basic seder.
A Haggadah is a book outlining the order of the elements of the seder. Haggadahs can be long or short, traditional or modern, relate to current events or not, have a lot or a little Hebrew. I know a lot of people who create their own Haggadah — with the essential part the same: telling the story of the exodus of Jews from Egypt.
When the 18 guests assembled at the home of the vice president and second gentleman on Friday, a White House official told me they used the Maxwell House Haggadah to tell the story of the Jews fleeing Egypt to escape slavery.
“Everyone participated and read from the Haggadah,” the official said.
The Harris/Emhoff seder “looked very much like any other seder: sang “Dayenu,” did the four questions, hid the Afikomen (it was found), ate (the) “Hillel Sandwich,” discussed the meaning of Passover — and how it relates to the world today.”
Harris and Emhoff lit a menorah in their residence during Hanukkah and last October, they attached a mezuzah on their front door.
The origin story as far as my reporting on this topic goes like this: Obama’s Passover Seder tradition began during the 2008 presidential campaign by a group of staffers who found themselves in Harrisburg, Pa., for the Pennsylvania primary days before the first seder.
The campaign staffers — including Eric Lesser, now a Massachusetts state senator — and Herbie Ziskend, now Harris’ senior adviser for communications — invited then-Sen. Barack Obama to the seder. They used the Maxwell House Haggadah because that’s what they could get on short notice.