Obama king of Jews 224.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama was scheduled to celebrate Pessah on 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 Pessah were 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 was unaware of a White House Seder in which the president had personally taken part. "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 Franklin D. Roosevelt had 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. It was "a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America," he said.
"Jews are a vital component in the mosaic that is American culture and society," Daroff continued. "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. This night is indeed different from all other nights."
In his letter, Obama described the story of Jews' ascent from slavery to freedom in the Land of Israel as being "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 Pessah started on Wednesday evening, Obama was hosting the second Seder, on Thursday night, apparently so that those in attendance could celebrate with their families on the first night.
The guest list included the president, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, as well as a dozen staff members and friends along with their families.
Last year, most had been on a campaign stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with then-senator Obama when the first night of Pessah fell.
According to the White House, Obama insisted on holding an impromptu Seder, and this year invited those who were with him to celebrate together again.