Monday, April 18, 2011

The Obamas Celebrate Passover 2011

This night is different from all other nights: "Kosher style" menu for President and First Lady's White House Seder...
As Jews across America sat down on Monday evening to celebrate the first night of Passover, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed guests to the White House for a Seder. The 6:30 PM dinner with family, friends, and staff continued a tradition started on the campaign trail in 2008, during the Pennsylvania Primary. (Above: The President is served Matzoh Ball Soup during Monday's Seder; Jarrett is seated at left)

"The Seder, with its rich traditions and rituals, instructs each generation to remember its past, while appreciating the beauty of freedom and the responsibility it entails," President Obama said in his Passover message. The White House Seder, a private affair, was closed to press, so the President's remarks at the dinner in the Old Family Dining Room were not noted by reporters. But the White House did release these photos.

The President was seated in the center of the table, between Eric Lesser and Arun Chaudhary, two of the three staffers who began the Seder tradition. Daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, were seated beside their mother, and across the table from their father. The President's personal aide, Reggie Love, was at the head of the table, and wore a yarmulke; the President did not. Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and the President's longtime pal and golf partner, Dr. Eric Whitaker of Chicago, sat across the table from each other at one end (in the foreground of the photo, above, where guests are dipping their fingers in wine during the reading of the Haggadah).

Floral centerpieces of yellow and green flowers, tall white tapers in gold candle holders, and plates of matzoh were in the center of the bare table, with white linen place mats under each plate. A pillow was on each gilt chair, which indicates 'freedom' in the Seder tradition, so guests could 'recline' during the reading from the Maxwell House Haggadah, a plain-language version in use in America for more than seventy years. It was used for the White House Seders in 2009 and 2010. Sasha Obama found the Afikoman last year, by the way.

The menu...
The White House chefs did most of the cooking from recipes provided by attending guests. The traditional Passover favorites included Chicken soup with matzoh balls, braised beef brisket, potato kugel, carrot soufflé, and matzoh chocolate cake. The recipes were "not strictly kosher but kosher style," according to a White House aide. Each year for the Hanukkah reception, the White House kitchen is koshered under the supervision of an orthodox rabbi, but no religious officials were part of the Seder. (Above: A closer view of the presidential ke'ara, the traditional Seder plate that holds the symbolic foods used to tell the story of the Exodus)

Passover got a lot of attention from the White House this year. A group of 'virtual guest chefs' were invited to create a collection of healthy Seder recipes for the White House blog. The eight high-profile chefs included DC's own Joan Nathan, whose cookbooks on Jewish cuisine are regarded as among the best in the world.

The President and First Lady's guests included:

*Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President

*Danielle Borrin, Associate Director, Office of Public Engagement

*Arun Chaudhary, White House Videographer

*Lisa Kohnke, Deputy Director of Special Events for the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs

*Eric Lesser, Director of Strategic Planning, White House Council of Economic Advisers

*Cookie Offerman, Deputy Associate Director, Office of the Social Secretary

*Reggie Love, Personal Aide to the President

*Jen Psaki, Deputy White House Communications Director

*Samantha Tubman, Deputy Associate Director, Office of the Social Secretary

*Dr. Eric Whitaker, family friend from Chicago

*Melissa Winter, Deputy Chief of Staff to the First Lady

*Herbie Ziskend, Policy Analyst, Office of the Vice President

Above: The President and guests during the 2010 Seder.

*Photos by Pete Souza/White House

*Updated, 10:00 PM