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In final Passover greeting, Obama compares Exodus to civil rights battle

Israelites’ journey from bondage to Promised Land ‘one of history’s greatest examples of emancipation,’ says president; Cameron decries rising anti-Semitism

US President Barack Obama talks during a press conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in central London on April, 22, 2016 following a meeting at Downing Street. (AFP PHOTO / Jim Watson)
US President Barack Obama talks during a press conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in central London on April, 22, 2016 following a meeting at Downing Street. (AFP PHOTO / Jim Watson)

Barack Obama sent out his final Passover greeting as US president on Friday, recalling his 2009 tradition-making seder — the first ever at the White House — and drawing a parallel between the story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and the battle for civil rights across the globe.

Mah nishtana halailah hazeh?,” the president wrote, quoting the Four Questions asked during the Jewish service on the first night of Passover. The Hebrew phrase means: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The president continued: “For Michelle and me, this Passover is different from all other Passovers because it will mark our last Seder in the White House – a tradition we have looked forward to each year since hosting the first-ever White House Seder in 2009.”

Comparing the Israelites’ desire for freedom to the fight for equality in the modern world, Obama wrote: “One of Passover’s most powerful rituals is its tradition of storytelling – millions of Jewish families, friends, and even strangers sitting together and sharing the inspirational tale of the Exodus. Led by a prophet and chased by an army, sustained by a faith in God and rewarded with deliverance, the Israelites’ journey from bondage to the Promised Land remains one of history’s greatest examples of emancipation.

“This story of redemption and hope, told and retold over thousands of years, has comforted countless Jewish families during times of oppression, echoing in rallying cries for civil rights around the world.”

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 3, 2015. (Photo credit: Pete Souza/The White House)
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 3, 2015. (Photo credit: Pete Souza/The White House)

Continuing the theme, the president also highlighted those who have yet to achieve their own freedom, again drawing on the messages of the Passover holiday.

“We will join millions around the world to celebrate redemption at God’s mighty hand and pray for those who still are denied their freedom. We dip the greens of renewal in saltwater to recall the tears of those imprisoned unjustly,” he wrote. “As we count the 10 Plagues, we spill wine from our glasses to remember those who suffered and those who still do. And as we humbly sing ‘Dayenu,’ we are mindful that even the smallest blessings and slowest progress deserve our gratitude.”

The president concluded by saying that, “May this season inspire us all to rededicate ourselves to peace and freedom for all of God’s children. From our family to yours, chag sameach.”

The White House will this year hold its seder late, as Obama is currently in the UK, as part of a foreign tour that also includes Saudi Arabia and Germany.

British Prime Minister David Cameron struck a different note in his own Passover greeting, decrying anti-Semitism in the UK and vowing “to do everything in my power to stamp it out.”

“As Jewish communities unite to celebrate the festival of Passover, our thoughts will turn to the increasing number of abhorrent anti-Semitic attacks over the past year. Jewish communities, wherever in the world they are, must not be left to live in fear,” he said in a message published on the British government website.

“Sadly, even here in the UK, we still see cases of anti-Semitic abuse. I am determined to do everything in my power to stamp it out. Part of that is remembering the horror of the Holocaust, because to ignore history is to risk repeating it.”

But he too, drew on the story of the Israelites’ escape from bondage, saying the religious freedom they sought can be reflected in the “successful multi-racial, multi-faith democracy” that is Britain today.

“Day in, day out, the Jewish community proves that you’re a true British success story, excelling in every field and working constantly to build a fairer society for everyone,” Cameron said. “So once again, let me wish you and your family a Chag Kasher V’Sameach.”

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