US President Barack Obama hosted a Passover Seder Monday, in what has become an annual White House tradition. The president, who returned at the weekend from a visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, had said during a speech in Jerusalem that he was looking forward to holding the celebration at the White House so his daughters could experience it.
Obama wished all those celebrating Passover in America, Israel, and around the world Chag Sameach (happy holiday) in a holiday greeting, earlier Monday, in which he also spoke of his trip to the Middle East.
“Last week, I visited the state of Israel for the third time, my first as President. I reaffirmed our countries’ unbreakable bonds with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and President [Shimon] Peres. I had the chance to speak directly with young Israelis about the future they wanted for their country, their region, and the world. And I saw once again how the dream of true freedom found its full expression in those words of hope from Hatikvah, lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu, ‘To be a free people in our land.’” he said in a statement.
“Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins,” said Obama reiterating a message he delivered at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem on Thursday. “As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continuing the hard work of repairing the world.”
In Jerusalem last week, Obama told his audience that the Passover story has a special resonance to him, as an African-American whose early years were not rooted in any one place. “To African Americans, the story of the Exodus was perhaps the central story, the most powerful image about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement into today,” he said. “For me, personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, the story spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.”
At a state dinner in his honor at Peres’s residence on Thursday, he noted the proximity of his visit to Passover, and spoke of the similarities between the histories of Israelis and of African-Americans — former slaves who suffered terrible hardship but eventually achieved freedom in a new land. “Our very existence, our presence here tonight, is a testament that all things are possible,” Obama told the Israeli gathering.
Obama started the annual Seder tradition as a presidential candidate in 2008 when he joined Jewish staffers celebrating on the campaign trail. He’s continued it every year since with a small group of aides and friends.
“it was an opportunity for him to spend some time with staff on the campaign and with friends, and it was a very meaningful moment on the campaign for him,” said White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest.
This year, the first family planned to use a Seder plate Obama was given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara as a gift to first lady Michelle Obama, Earnest told reporters.
The Atlantic reporter Jeffery Goldberg tweeted that the president spoke about his trip to Israel during the White House Seder, enthusing over the breakfasts at the King David Hotel, where he stayed, and mentioning his visits to Mount Herzl, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum, and to see an Iron Dome anti-missile system.