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Ma Nishtaneh in the White House? Who's Who at the Obama seder. Brisket and kugel


seder_hi-res.jpg (White House photo) (See below for ID's)

President Obama and his family hosted a seder at the White House on Thursday, the second night of Passover. Last year Passover fell during the Pennsylvania primary and Obama joined a makeshift seder Eric Lesser--now an assistant to David Axelrod--put together at a hotel in Harrisburg.

Some of the group at that seder were invited for the first Obama White House seder. The group used Maxwell House haggadahs--yes, named for the coffee maker-- a very basic haggadah but one that includes all the traditional elements.

Speaking of tradition....The menu included the traditional Passover fixings--matzah, charoset, brisket and chicken, along with a kugel. There were macaroons for dessert.

Who's who: From the President's left is Samantha Tubman (she came to the original one in Harrisburg and now works for Social Secretary Desiree Rogers).... Next to Tubman is Melissa Winter (deputy chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama) then First daughters Sasha, and Malia, then the First Lady.

Next to the First Lady is deputy White House counsel Susan Sher, and next to Susan Sher (out of view) are her sons Evan Moore and Michael Cohen, top White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and Obama pal and University of Chicago Medical Center honcho Eric Whitaker (who you can't see).

On the other side of the table, to the President's immediate right, is Susan Sher's husband Neil Cohen. Next to him is Laura Moser (Arun Chaudhary wife), then White House videographer Arun Chaudhary, Vice President Biden aide Herbie Ziskend (Chaudhary and Ziskend were at Harrisburg) Eric Lesser, Lesser's father, Martin Lesser, Deputy Director of Advance Lisa Kohnke, Mrs. Obama's personal aide, Dana Lewis, and Obama personal assistant Reggie Love.


does this guy, this 'president' grasp the notion that 'events' really don't roll anymore for the american people? it's like the czar or some weirness out of the weimar republic. the phone might ring at 3:00 am but does anybody answer?

It's very exciting to see this diverse group celebrating this extremely important Jewish holiday with the president in the White House. Chag sameach!

Figure someone would complain about that. Looks to me like a fun moment and I doubt most folks will see much more beyond that.

Jeffery, this wasn't an event, it was the continuation of a tradition that had been started on the campaign trail. This picture is the only one out there for a reason. This wasn't open to the press.

Jeffery, lighten up will ya? The president hardly gets any rest as it is--if you've been following the news. So, do you think we might be in better shape right now if John McCain were in the White House instead?

Personally, I like a president who knows how to relax with friends and enjoy himself. I trust the decisions of a person who can keep his balance.

It shouldn't be open to the press, and given recent events in should be down played big time. catherine the great made the same error. alex, yes....? lost that thought? lets just disagree and have history resolve our views.

I agree that we've had enough bread and circus. His cabinet is shaky and he's an entertainer. Endless campaiging, grip and grin and bow. Nothing of merit, bu the what did president de-fault promise..hope. hope for the next election.


I wonder if someone ever noted to Obama that throughout the entire story, Moses is not ever mentioned in the Hagaddah. The Passover Seder tells the story of the flight from Slavery by the Hebrews from Egypt

lev9114 Baltimore

What a country!! In 1953 , the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in the schools. Today we have a President of African -American descent. In 1940 the UNited States would not allow the ship the St. Louis to land with fleeing refugees from Hitler's Germany. Thursday we had a Seder in the White House. Again, WHAT A COUNTRY!!

It is called the Maxwell House Haggadah because Maxwell House gives them out free annually. It is a lovely picture. This is the America that lives in my heart.

This is an important event to celebrate. But where is the empty seat? Traditionally it is reserved for the arrival of the prophet Elijah. Less conservative Jewish observers leave an empty seat in remembrance of loved ones, a cause, a group of people, etc. At a Christian seder meal the empty seat is left for the return of Christ. The more Jewish & Christian orthodox views hope for the coming of the kingdom of God.

Whatever the reason, there is no empty chair at this meal. Odd.


I read your comment and looked at the picture. The empty seat is at the other head the table. Based on the importance of the possible list of visitors I think that is an important place for it.

I was delighted when I heard about this Passover observance at the White House and I wish I could have been one of the guests.

Sheryl, I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and have attended over one hundred seders (two per year) at my own home and the homes of relatives and Jewish friends, but I have never heard of the empty seat custom you describe. It sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea, but maybe it comes from Christian seders.

The standard Jewish custom is actually to have a special cup of wine on the table for the prophet Elijah. In Hebrew, this is called "cos Eliyahu." After we drink the third of the seder's four cups of wine, we refill our cups and fill Elijah's, then open the door for him. Jews believe the Elijah will announce the (first) coming of the messiah, and every year we hope that this will be the time.


I believe I see an empty seat at the opposite end of the table, perhaps the head seat.

I'm a big fan of the Obama family but the fact that they were using the Maxwell House haggadah was a huge disappointment. Its archaic language is almost impenetrable: the only thing that keeps participants awake is wondering how much longer it will be until the meal is served.

With so many excellent haggadahs available, I have to wonder why the Maxwell House one was chosen. I hope and pray this is not representative of the advice that the president is getting on other more pressing issues (e.g., the economy.)

If it is, we're all in big trouble. This is not change we can believe in.

sheryl - look closer. Elijah's empty seat is at the far end of the table - directly opposite the president.

sheryl- the empty seat is probably on the other end of the long table, opposite the President. My guess is that all the people are blocking the back of the empty chair so you can't see it.

"Given recent Events in Gaza.."?????
Given EVENTS in Belfast over the Years,
Why Celebrate St. PATRICK'S DAY?
You're a Jew-Hating TURKEY!!!

It looks to me like the empty seat for the Prophet Elijah was at the opposite end of the table from President Obama. I think it's wonderful that there was a seder in the White House.

Very surprised, since Obama wants to build up relationship with Iran, that Ahmendinijad wasn't invited to deliver the Ma Nishtana.

maybe Ahmendinijad he was the wicked child.

I congratulate the president and his family for showing the world that we are ONE. It is such a refreshing change to see that "YES WE CAN" has become 'YES WE ARE"

This guy will do anything for a photo opp.

Turkey?? That is a nice comment, Choy.

I grew up in NE as the daughter of a Catholic Woman and a Methodist Dad. I left the Catholic Church when I went to college and my Mom said "you are a great daughter and I worry about priests not being able to marry and then get in trouble." Well, all of my life I have dated Jewish guys, starting at the University of NE, then during my writing and PR career in Nebraska, NYC, Denver, Chicago and now Tucson, I have a fabulous guy now. I have absolutely adored all of them, and gone to emotional Holacaust Dinners and nearly sobbed to see tatoos on hands with numbers. I have so much respect. Perhaps Barack Obama has similar feelings as I experienced.

"Some came and took our land, forced us to leave, forced us to live in camps. I think this is terrorism. Using means to resist this terrorism and stop its effects - this is called struggle." - Leila Khaled

Of course i wanted to see who was there, details, like, as if it were my own family....and yes, there is the freedom haggadah, the arab and israeli peace haggadah, "we shall remember" a creative hagaddah through music and group reading, chanting, and movement, there is "tikun ha olam" hagaddah, Why this maxwell house one i read from 60 years ago? perhaps it was free? or not well researched by those who planned it.......but, still i wanted to look at it over and over our white house! Amazing.

Tell Jeffery McNary that the czars were in Russia, not Germany.

The Weimar Republic was created in Germany, not Russia, following World War One.

Jeffrey, did you skip European history when and if you went to college?

I think this is wonderful. It shows that the president and our government are acknowledging other cultures as equal to the majority. I am beaming to know that our president is even more open-minded than I thought and that our country is on it's way to more accepting attitudes and more appreciation to each others' traditions.

As far as the comment about the Maxwell House Hagaddahs....WHO CARES????????? My family and I have been using the same hagaddahs from before I was born, and any intelligent person can figure out the extra "th" at the end of some words and a "thy" or "ye" here and there.

Bottom line....GO OBABMA!!!!!!!!! Chag S'meach!

This is a wonderful sight. In England I have to explain to friends and colleagues why I'm not eating bread this week, why I'm busy in the evenings with 2 seder nights. Judaism is so mainstream in the USA. How refreshing!

Political event for Obama. He suckers the Jews and dumps Israel in the grease. He sucks up to the Moslems (Arabs) and shames the US.

If the seder was held on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, then there would be no complaints about this "event" whatsoever!

The empty chair appears to be at the other end of table but that may be because a mirror is there for him{OB}to see himself.This began as a"Tradition" on campaign trail? What a lame reason.Is he Jewish? Is he a Christian? [says we are not a CHRISTIAN NATION].Moshe Feder; this guy is not the return of Elijah!

oh my gosh, i've been attacked by oh my god what next...?? please don't throw me in the briar patch, or the west bank for that

First, I need to know - who did the 4 questions? Was it Sasha? Maybe Bo? (the youngest).

To Leonard: It couldn't be Ahmadinejad, according to Colbert he was busy selling Streit's Matzohs.

Anyway, for the next seder, some new verses to "Dayenu" ("It would be enough"):

"He fixed our economy..."
"He took us out of Iraq..."
"He gave us Health Insurance..."

Happy holidays to all.

When it looked like Michael Dukakis might get in in 1988,there was talk of a White House seder because his wife and children were Jewish. Mayor Ed Koch used to hold seders in Gracie Mansion. Maybe this that Obama is doing makes less sense, but knowing the President, I'm sure his intentions are good.

What if our President chose to hold Eid al-Fitr. (The Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر‎) marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan) at the White House. Would you all be so forth coming, and accepting? I applaud the president for bridging the gabs in all of our cultures, but I can’t help but wonder if its only some that need be pleased and not all. All that does is puts us back where we began. Variation and complexities are the only dividers. Its sad but true, this is the social norms of our society. When will the norms be changed????? That would be a day that I celebrate!!!!!

I am a moroccan jew and I will be happy to see the President celebrating Eid al-Fitr.Variations and complexities should not be dividers but part of a tapestry that reflects our society.

I'm wondering if the Seders were kosher, or koser style. My thoughts are that it was probably kosher style.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 10, 2009 11:20 AM.

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