Maxwell House is Haggadah of Choice at Obama Seder


obama-seder1Why was Monday night different from all the other nights in the White House?

As reported here on last night, for the second year, the Obama family night hosted a seder in the White House, with gefilte fish, tzimmes, kugel, matzo ball soup and brisket, I’m told (entire menu at the end of the column). The seder — marking the first night of Passover — was in the Old Family Dining Room and, like last year, the group used the no-frills Maxwell House haggadah–the Seder guide named after the coffee maker.

The seder started at about 6:30 and ran approximately two hours, and many of the participants remembered when a small group of Obama presidential campaign staffers threw together a seder in a hotel in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2008. Eric Lesser, then the campaign’s chief baggage wrangler (and now an assistant to White House senior adviser David Axelrod) organized the hotel seder because Passover that year came during the hotly contested Pennsylvania primary and staffers did not have time to go home for the holiday.

Lesser got hold of a seder “kit” from the Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania — complete with the haggadah — and as Jewish and non-Jewish staffers gathered, then Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama dropped in to join the group, as did Valerie Jarrett, now a White House senior adviser, and pal Eric Whitaker, a University of Chicago Medical Center executive.

The seder comes with a bonus: Because it is clearly a private, personal affair with longtime staffers and their families, the Obama White House avoids having leaders of different U.S. Jewish groups feel slighted that they were not invited.

In 2009, the White House seder was on the second night of Passover. Obama sat at the head of the long table in the Old Family Dining Room. Most of the Harrisburg group was there, as were other staffers. The Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, found the afikomen — the hidden matzo.

This year, the seder was on the first night of Passover. Obama sat in the middle of the table, not at the head. Many of the same Harrisburg core group were there again — Lesser, with his mother, Joan (last year he brought his father, Martin); Arun Chaudhary, videographer for the campaign and now the White House; Samantha Tubman, a campaign press assistant and now a deputy in the White House social secretary’s office; and Jen Psaki, then traveling press secretary and now the White House deputy communications chief.

Folks passed along to the White House chefs their favorite recipes: Susan Sher, Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff and White House liaison to the Jewish community, sent along a recipe for a Passover noodle kugel that came from Jeanne Steiner, her sister. Mrs. Lesser shared her carrot soufflé recipe, and Herbie Ziskend, a campaign staffer now with Vice President Biden’s operation, offered his recipe for charoses.

I’m told by one of the participants that the seder was festive and had all the traditional elements: “It went the way most seders do. We read the Maxwell House haggadah and did four questions, sang Dayenu, made Hillel sandwiches and searched for afikomen. We concluded with the cup for Elijah and singing ‘Eliyahu Hanavi.’

“It was a meaningful way to mark the holiday with co-workers who have become close friends, and to reflect on all that has happened since the first seder in Harrisburg. And the matzo balls were pretty good, too!”

The White House released a photo of the seder, above. From right to left, it’s Psaki, President Obama, Lisa Kohnke (deputy director of White House advance), Lesser, Joan Lesser, and Joanna Cohen, Sher’s step-daughter.

I obtained the menu of the Obama White House 2010 seder. Here it is:

Gefilte Fish
Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
Braised Beef Brisket
Chicken Roast
Sweet Potato-Carrot Tzimmes
Carrot Souffle
Spring Asparagus
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Golden Apricot Cake
Brown Sugar Macaroons

{Lynn Sweet/ Newscenter}


  1. What a bizayon! Why even report this garbage? Where were the two self hating antisemites – Emanuel & Axelrod for the sedorim? scheming against Klal Yisroel?

  2. Shall we call Obama’s masquerade identity theft? He wants to have it both ways: to be the victimizer, (he is tzorer haYehudim, a modern day Parroh) and at the same time claim the status of the victim by reading the Hagada, eating matzo , charoses, etc. A departure from the actual yetzias Mitzraim is that this time there were several stupid Jews that played along with modern day Paroh.

  3. Emanuel was probably having a heimishe seder with his family. and until you volunteer forthe israeli army during a war, you are the self hater, not the one who did.

  4. what a toiava!!!!

    what an embarrassment and bizayon to see him cellebrating peasach. let him do something else with his life

  5. Obama seems to be poiseach al shnei haseifim, but to call him an anti semite is just a little absurd, because no anti semite would do such a thing, especially if its a festival, which we celebrate our triumph over anti semites, and the ten plagues and the nisim al hayom which are mentioned in the hagudu, Obama and staff used, and so it just cant be he’s an anti semite, and maybe he’s just being misled by anti semitic elements in his demonstration, or maybe he really thinks his policies even though they are so one sided, against the jews in israel, well maybe its part of a view of peace which will ultimately not work, but he’s just a liberal diehard, and liberals dont change their views as stupid as they may sound, and even 9.11 didnt change them so why should old unrealistic views of peace in the middle east change them, even when events prove against it?

  6. I feel offended when those who are not necessarily looking out for my good try to mimick my holy laws and customs. I was filled with disgust upon reading this posting because his seder only serves to cheapen the whole idea of a seder. I wish that he would not conduct a seder and feel that he is “doing” for the Jews.

  7. Now we have a new fifth type of son showing up at a seder — the non-Jew who wants to put the life of Jews at risk — be it in Judea, Samaria, throughout the rest of Israel, or throughout the rest of the world. Heaven Forbid!! Maybe Obama should stick with Easter, or, does he celebrate a Moslem holiday instead?

  8. These other comments really make me quite sick. We should be filled with joy that the leader of our country respects our traditions enough to embrace the Jews in his administaration na d the nation and partake in the Seder. This is a sign of respect for us and our history and traditions. Passover is a time for reflecting upon our ancestors’ freedom from bondage and I find it heartening that another culture (African-Americans) can share in this and celebrate their own ancestors’ freedom from bondage (which I must remind everyone, that our Jewish ancestors played a part in as slave traders and slave owners).

  9. Erev Shabbos Kodesh Chol HaMoed Pesach
    Time 6:15 PM Pacific Standard Time

    I fully agree with Comment #11. from Matt that we certainly must be extremely appreciative when the non-Jewish leaders of our country show some respect and admiration for our holidays and observances.

    We definately must stop all these hurls of “Sonei Yisroel” and “Anti-Semite,” when they are against certain things done by the government of the State of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself does not do this! We certainly do not have to be more “pro-Israel” than him! Many times, Netanyahu clearly stated that he is not angry at all about the sharp demands and criticism that President Obama and his administration have been giving him. Many times, Netanyahu and his aides explained that they fully understand and expect that the American government is not going to agree with everything that they do.

  10. Erev Shabbos Kodesh Chol HaMoed Pesach
    Time 7:10 PM Pacific Standard Time

    (continuation of previous comment)

    Especially when they openly say that they are NOT (Lord Forbid) anti-Israel; on the contrary, they say that they are very PRO-ISRAEL, and the demands that they are making of Israel is because they feel that these things are what are really BEST for Israel!

    A few years ago, I saw on the C-Span station a replay of a meeting with former President James Carter with his former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Mr. Brzezinski was discussing how they have been heavily called anti-Semitic, and he said something — and as he was saying these words, you could see President Carter ermotionally nodding his head in the fullest agreement — that is really quite excellent and true:

    “When you (wrongly) throw around the phrase “anti-Semite,” you cheapen the meaning of the words!!”

    (I am not anti-Semitic at all! On the contrary,) “My parents (back in Poland) HID JEWS during (the Nazi occupation of) World War II!!”