Pinky Pie

Passover, President Obama & Me

Posted on: March 29, 2010

The 2009 White House Seder. White House photo.

I had an amusing moment Sunday morning at the small Passover foods display in a store in La Crosse that stocked foods expressly for the holiday.

A guy walked by, stopped and was clearly puzzled by a jar of gefilte fish. When I explained what it was, he raised his eyebrows and proclaimed, “Uf da!”

Uf da is Norwegian for “oy vey.” And the odds are that you will hear the Norwegian term many more times in La Crosse than the Yiddish.

Needless to say, that man who wore a Packers shirt and baseball cap, did not buy the gefilte fish.

And I thought, “I don’t think we are in Jerusalem any more, Toto.”

I love Passover, a holiday that celebrates freedom, specifically the release of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt. But the themes are universal and worth discussing each year.

Passover also is a home-based holiday in which a meal – called a Seder – follows an order during which the Passover story is told. It is educational, delicious and fun.

We are fortunate to be invited to two Seders each year at the homes of good friends. Each family has its own twist on the event, which lasts several hours.

The first night I am supposed to bring a potato kugel, a baked Jewish pudding or casserole. Apparently I made a kugel last year and it was a big hit, but I don’t remember how I made it. I hope we like it this year. I’ll add apples, carrots and prunes.

You need the prunes when you eat a lot of matzos – the unleavened bread that reminds us that the Jews did not have time to let their bread rise when they were escaping from Egypt.

Speaking of not remembering, for the second night’s Seder I’m supposed to bring hardboiled eggs. I never remember how to boil eggs, although I know it involves very hot water.

I love the Passover Seders we have at the home of our friends, and wouldn’t miss them for anything – except if I could wrangle an invitation to the White House Seder.

Yes President Obama established a new tradition of holding a Passover meal each year. It was candidate Obama who heard that several of his overworked staff members were having a Seder on the campaign trail. According to the New York Times, they had just begun an improvised Seder in 2008 when they heard the voice of their boss saying, “Hey, is this the Seder?”  He joined them.

It is a tradition to say at the Seder each year, “May we be celebrating next year in Jerusalem.” Obama apparently hoped to be celebrating the next year in the White House. And he did.

President Obama had a Seder last year in the White House and will again tonight at sundown, when the holiday begins He was the first president to do so. He and some 20 guests will celebrate Passover in what is called the Old Family Dining Room.

I’m impressed that he is willing to spend the several hours it takes to conduct a Seder. He is not the only president to observe a Jewish holiday.

President Bush observing the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. White House photo

Just a few months after September 11, his predecessor observed a child lighting the Hanukkah candles and then said, “I couldn’t imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah.”

It goes without say that bin Laden probably wouldn’t want to celebrate Passover either. But does it need to be said to a child?


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