Rachael Strecher/AP
President Barack Obama listens to a prayer being read by Chief Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz
at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem's Old City.

Obama Fosters Religious Inclusion with White House Passover Seder

April 09, 2009 01:04 PM
by Emily Coakley
Tonight Barack Obama is hosting what is believed to be the first Seder attended by a sitting president at the White House.

Seder Follows Campaign Trail Declaration

The White House Seder will include traditional foods, including bitter herbs and matzo, The Associated Press reported. Tonight is the second night of the seven-day Passover observance.

This time last year Obama was on the campaign trail when he participated in a small Seder held by his staff in Harrisburg, Pa. The end of a Seder includes a tradition of proclaiming next year’s Seder will be in Jerusalem. Obama’s staff also added “Next year in the White House,” according to the First Read blog on MSNBC.

An unnamed White House official told First Read the Seder, “is meant not only to celebrate the holiday but also to reflect on all that has happened in our lives.”
The guest list is reportedly small—some staff and their family—and may have ruffled some feathers. First lady Michelle Obama’s first cousin once removed is Capers Funnye, lead rabbi at Chicago’s Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. 

“I know nothing about [the Seder], but Michelle and I are very close and I'm hoping to hear from her soon,” Funnye told a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, adding that he and the first lady discussed having a gathering at the White House in the spring or summer.

The Sun-Times also noted that former President Bush (the column didn’t specify which) invited Funnye to a White House Hanukkah celebration.

Others welcomed news of the Seder. To William Daroff of United Jewish Communities, the White House Seder is “a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America,” the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.

Qwidget is loading...

Opinion & Analysis: Religion and the White House

Religion has figured prominently in Obama’s tenure so far, which some have criticized. Liliana Segura, writing on AlterNet.org, said, “President Barack Obama has raised eyebrows by mixing faith and politics in a way that has dismayed some of his secular supporters.”

Rallies begin with prayers, a practice that has been scrutinized by White House staff, and something that President George W. Bush didn’t do.

Barry Lynn of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State was quoted as saying it was bad enough to have the prayers, but worse to have White House staff involved, “because it entangles the White House in core theological matters.”

As some criticize the presence of religion at official functions, others have criticized Obama for not attending church.

Bill Sammon, writing for Fox News’ Fox Forum, pointed out that the president hasn’t attended any Sunday service since taking office. He contrasted that with President George W. Bush, who had already attended several services at St. John’s Episcopal Church by the time he had been in office for 11 weeks.

Sammon quoted an earlier statement from Obama on the difficulties of daily life while president: “You don’t want to subject your fellow church members, the rest of the congregation, to being nagged every time you go to church.”

Reference: Passover, Judaism


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines