White House Marks Passover With Seder

President Obama hosts a traditional Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House. i i

President Obama (right) hosts a traditional Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House on Thursday night. Some friends and White House employees and their families joined the Obama family. Pete Souza/The White House hide caption

itoggle caption Pete Souza/The White House
President Obama hosts a traditional Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House.

President Obama (right) hosts a traditional Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House on Thursday night. Some friends and White House employees and their families joined the Obama family.

Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama will host a seder at the White House tonight in celebration of Passover. It is believed to be the first time an American president has attended a seder while in office.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Why is this night different from any other night? Well, for one it may be the first time a sitting president holds a Passover Seder in the White House. Here's NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH: Let's clear up those Internet rumors right now. President Barack Obama is not a secret Jew. Although…

Rabbi MICHAEL FRIEDMAN (New York Central Synagogue): We'd be happy to have him.

SMITH: Rabbi Michael Friedman from New York Central Synagogue says tonight is historic. But Mr. Obama should remember not to make it too formal.

Rabbi FRIEDMAN: First of all, have fun with it.

SMITH: And make it your own, the Rabbi says. The Seder commemorates the Jewish exodus from Egypt after centuries of slavery. And Rabbi Friedman says that, in a way, the themes of Passover are the original Yes We Can.

Rabbi FRIEDMAN: That we have to take action, we have to take our lives into our own hands. We have to reach out and change the world.

SMITH: Today at sundown, the Obama family will gather with Jewish staff in the White House and have the traditional meal of the matza, the bitter herbs, the roasted egg. They'll also remember the plagues of ancient Egypt. The locusts, the frogs, boils and maybe pause to contemplate the modern curses upon this country: foreclosures, unemployment, AIG. Rabbi Friedman says that President Obama could take a cautionary lesson from how the Egyptian Pharaoh handled both tough times.

Rabbi FRIEDMAN: The Pharaoh, after each plague, got tougher and more obstinate and less willing to let the Jews, the Israelites, go to freedom. And I think President Obama faces the challenge of doing the exact opposite - to remain open-hearted to all the citizens of United States and the citizens of the world.

SMITH: The Seder is already being dissected for its political meaning. It comes conveniently just after the president traveled to a Muslim country and just before the annual Easter Egg Roll. And it does fulfill a campaign promise. Last year at the end of a Seder, attended by then-candidate Obama, after the traditional refrain, next year in Jerusalem, he said, next year in the White House. Tonight perhaps the president should say, next year in economic recovery.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.