Trump a no-show at White House Seder
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Trump a no-show at White House Seder

Passover meal held for staff, but neither president nor his immediate Jewish family members attend; one cabinet member to show is VA head David Shulkin

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Members of US President Donald Trump's staff participate in a Passover Seder in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House grounds. Trump himself did not attend the dinner held on April 10, 2017. (Courtesy)
Members of US President Donald Trump's staff participate in a Passover Seder in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House grounds. Trump himself did not attend the dinner held on April 10, 2017. (Courtesy)

WASHINGTON — The White House hosted a Passover Seder Monday night for its staff, but US President Donald Trump did not attend.

The Seder was held in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just steps away from the West Wing, and a kosher meal was served, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told The Times of Israel.

Trump’s immediate family members who are Jewish — his son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump — were not there and were reportedly out of town. The one Jewish cabinet member who did attend was David Shulkin, secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Shulkin, the former undersecretary for health in that same department, is one of the few Obama holdovers in the administration.

Around the time the Seder was taking place, Ivanka Trump tweeted a picture of her, Kushner and their three children, with a Passover message.

Both the president’s official and personal Twitter feeds also issued statements wishing Jews worldwide a Happy Passover in English and Hebrew.

The White House Seder began as an annual tradition under Obama, who hosted the first such event eight years ago in the Old Family Dining Room.

News that the Trump administration had planned to carry on the custom was first reported by Jewish Insider.

Monday evening was not the first time a Seder took place at the White House without its president’s participation. While Obama initiated the yearly occurrence, Jewish staffers in former president Bill Clinton’s administration held a Seder in the Indian Treaty Room in 1993 — which Clinton himself did not attend.

That event was orchestrated by then White House Director of Design and Production Steve Rabinowitz, now the president of Bluelight Strategies, a communications firm that works with Jewish organizations and Democratic groups.

Obama moved to set up the ritual after he participated in a Passover dinner during his 2008 presidential campaign, when he surprised Jewish campaign staffers by holding an impromptu seder in a hotel ballroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

US President Donald Trump alongside White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (L) during a meeting at the White House, February 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump alongside White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (L) during a meeting at the White House, February 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Beyond his immediate family, Trump has several Jewish administration officials, including Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and Senior Adviser Stephen Miller.

Monday night marked the first night of Passover for Jews around the world, gathered for the festive event centered around retelling the story of the ancient Jews’ exodus from Egypt.

Diaspora Jews traditionally hold two seders on successive nights, while Jews in Israel have only one.

Obama often invited Jewish members of staff to join in his seder, including David Axelrod and Ben Rhodes. Some of his aides reportedly consulted with White House chefs over family recipes for traditional Passover cuisine.

President Obama hosting a Passover seder at the White House in 2012 (Pete Souza/The White House)
President Obama hosting a Passover Seder at the White House in 2012 (Pete Souza/The White House)

Non-Jewish members of Obama’s administration, such as Valerie Jarrett, were known to join in the dinner, as well.

Last year, the White House Seder was delayed until after Passover to accommodate Obama’s travel schedule.

One of the hallmarks of the Obama seder — which was held every year of his eight-year presidency — was using the ubiquitous Maxwell House Haggadah and a glass kiddush cup that former first lady Michelle Obama was given by a rabbi in Prague.

Trump is the first president with immediate family members who are Jewish. His daughter Ivanka married Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, in 2009. Before tying the knot, she underwent a rigorous Orthodox conversion process.

The two — who observe Shabbat and keep kosher — have raised their three children, the youngest of whom was born last March, Jewish.

When the family moved to Washington, they enrolled their oldest daughter Arabella in Jewish Primary Day School and their middle son Joseph in Gan Hayeled Jewish preschool at Adas Israel Congregation, the largest Conservative synagogue in the nation’s capital.

Both now work in the administration; Kushner is a senior adviser to the president and Ivanka, as of last week, is an official assistant to the president.

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump, center, her husband Jared Kushner, above center, and their children arrive for a National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral, in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump, center, her husband Jared Kushner, above center, and their children arrive for a National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral, in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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