The White House tradition of holding a Passover Seder, started by US President Barack Obama in 2009 during his first term, is the continuation of a longstanding Obama family tradition, according to interfaith advocate Rabbi Marc Schneier.

Schneier is the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

The White House Seders, he said, are the “continuation of a longstanding custom” by the Obamas who participated in Seders in their hometown of Chicago.

“In fact, Obama began observing Passover after moving in the mid 1980s to the mixed Jewish-African American Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where he taught law at the University of Chicago, launched his political career and formed close personal relationships with a broad spectrum of Jewish academics, political professions and even rabbis.”

Last week in Jerusalem, Obama explained that Passover resonates with African Americans because to his community “the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image to emerge from the grip of bondage to reach liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights movement into today.”

The Obamas’ ceremony on Monday included a Seder plate given to first lady Michelle Obama by Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Before the holiday, the president issued a statement of hope. “As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continuing the hard work of repairing the world.”

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