By Mitzpeh Staff
During former President Barack Obama’s term, three low-level staff members gathered during the first night of Passover to have a thrown-together Seder. After Obama, a Christian, discovered this, he turned it into a White House tradition. Every year from then on, they enjoyed Jewish staples like gefilte fish and matzah ball soup, while Malia and Sasha Obama would ask the four questions.
For the head executive of a country that’s less than two percent Jewish to uphold this tradition shows a healthy commitment to diversity and education through experience. It would be easy for the former president to have quietly been supportive of his staff members – but he went out of his way to participate in their ceremony.
Likewise, it’s easier for citizens today to look at past cross-cultural efforts, like women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, than to appreciate the significance of modern progressive traditions. Mitzpeh’s staff holds that the White House’s Passover Seder is a recent practice to be proud of – something that could promote empathy across religious lines.
By sitting through a reading and sparse meal that puts observers in the mindset of Exodus-era Jews, outsiders gain valuable perspective on Jewish and Israeli history. If the Seder takes place in a religious setting, people of other religions can learn about the faithful love of the Abrahamic God, and if the Seder is posed more as a historical and cultural tradition, guests can capture a small glimpse of the history of this people group.
This allows non-Jews to adjust their views, going forward, to be more compassionate towards those suffering persecution and oppression. Even if none of the significance sinks in, sharing a Seder with friends provides a convenient platform for people to ask questions about Judaism, and realize from what a rich culture the practice emanates.
Whether it was his intention or not, Obama’s action conveyed the message that tolerance should be celebrated, and there’s a lot to learn from others. College students, especially at this university, can emulate his example. On campus, the cultural diversity is vast, which provides a hefty amount of room to grow and challenge yourself in the diverse context. The Mitzpeh staff hopes its peers are taking advantage of this opportunity.
The White House upheld the Seder tradition this year, without the attendance of President Donald Trump. Neither Trump, nor his daughter Ivanka or son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are Jewish, were at the Seder. Trump’s absence came as a surprise to many, due to his support for Jews and Israel throughout his campaign. Instead, he sent out a tweet wishing everyone a Happy Passover that garnered significant attention. It is unclear whether he will be attending future White House Seders.
Happy Passover to everyone celebrating in the United States of America, Israel, and around the world. #ChagSameach
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2017
The transition of office in 2016 would have been the most likely time for this annual observance to fall by the wayside, and Mitzpeh is glad to see this wasn’t the case. On the tail end of the White House’s 10th Seder, it seems as though (with or without the president attending) the practice is well placed to be a lasting tradition.