(photo by Lynn Sweet)
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, with daughters Malia and Sasha host their fourth Passover seder at the White House on Friday and I confirmed Tuesday morning that the Maxwell House Haggadah will again be used.
Obama’s Passover Seder tradition started during the 2008 presidential campaign by a group of staffers who found themselves in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for the primary as the first seder loomed. That 2008 hastily organized seder was led by Eric Lesser, now a Harvard Law School student who served stints in the campaign and at the White House as David Axelrod’s assistant and at the White House Council of Economic Advisors. The campaign staffers invited then Sen. Obama, used the Maxwell House haggadah because that’s what they could get on short notice and created a tradition that has endured.
The first night of Passover is Friday and seders everywhere will use a Haggadah–a book outlining the order of the elements of the seder. Haggadah’s can be long or short, classic or customized, traditional or modern, relate to current events or not, have a lot or a little Hebrew.
The Maxwell House Haggadah–published in various editions since 1932 by Maxwell House Coffee–covers all the basics, is very short and is easy to obtain–free at supermarkets. (Maxwell House is now part of Kraft Foods, Inc. headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Northfield.) I broke the news in 2009 that the Obama seder used the Maxwell House Haggadah and there has been some interest in what Haggadah the Obama seder uses ever since.
Obama was asked a few weeks ago by Jeffrey Goldberg–at the end of an interview about the Mideast–about a Haggadah for the 2012 seder. Goldberg wrote: “Two weeks ago, after I finished interviewing President Obama on the subject of Iran and Israel, I handed him a copy of the New American Haggadah, the Passover user’s guide edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, which includes commentary by Goldblog.
“…When I handed him the Haggadah, President Obama, who famously stages his own seders at the White House, (which is a very nice philo-Semitic thing to do, IMHO) spent a moment leafing through it and making approving noises. Then he said (as I told the Times): “Does this mean we can’t use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?”
No, it does not and the Maxwell House Haggadah has a White House home Friday. Perhaps guests will bring others. The White House sent out invitations for the seder on March 5 and the seder was announced by the White House last Friday. The small number of guests remain basically the same: the staffers and advisors who were at the 2008 seder in Pennsylvania. This year, I am told, there will be a few additions, including Jarrod Bernstein, the White House liaison to the Jewish community, and his wife Hildy Kuryk finance director at the Democratic National Committee.
On Wednesday, a different Haggadah–The “Food & Justice Hagaddah” will be used at a seder sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with participants including Max Finberg, Director, USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture and Alan van Capelle, CEO, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, the “Food & Justice” Haggadah publisher.
Leading the USDA Seder will be Rabbi Sydney Mintz and Rabbi Jack Moline (Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended Moline’s synagogue when he lived in Washington as Obama Chief of Staff.)
Usually the Obama Passover seder features a traditional menu of brisket, kugel and matzoh balls.
The Obama White House 2009 seder (White House photo)
the blessing before the meal