Why on This Night? Race, Faith and the Obama Seders

Top Pick March 28, 2019 Boston Free 0
(Photo: Pete Souza/White House)
(Photo: Pete Souza/White House)

When was the first-ever Passover seder in the White House? Would you believe it was in 2009, President Obama’s first term?

Prior to that, no president had ever thought to host a seder in the White House.

Temple Israel of Boston will commemorate the 10th anniversary of this historic event with a panel discussion on “Race, Faith and the Obama Seders,” and you are invited to join us.

Our moderator will be Boston Globe columnist Renée Graham.

Panel participants will include Bishop John M. Borders III of Morning Star Baptist Church in Roxbury, Danika Manso-Brown, associate education director of ADL New England, as well as Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, who was one of the co-founders of the first White House seder.

This event is open to the public. Coffee/tea/dessert will be served. We will have CART (communication access real time) translation available.

More about the backstory:

The origin of the 2009 seder came on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania during April 2008. Three young Jewish campaign staffers, Arun Chaudhary, Herbie Ziskend and Eric Lesser, found themselves in Harrisburg with nowhere to go for Passover. With some help from a relative at a nearby Hillel, they pulled together a small seder kit and had an impromptu seder in the basement of the Harrisburg Sheraton.

To their surprise, as they were getting started, they heard a very familiar voice ask, “Is this the seder? May I join you?”

In walked the candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, who proceeded to ask the participants questions about the meaning of the seder with the pointed precision of a law professor who had been to a lot of seders back in Chicago. The man knew his seder stuff.

At one point someone uttered the familiar refrain, “Next year in Jersualem!”

“No,” said Sen. Obama. “Next year in the White House!”

It had been a tough time on the campaign trail. Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary decisively and there was negative press related to the candidate’s prior association with a controversial reverend. But his words at the seder, “Next year in the White House!” gave much-needed hope and resolve to Arun, Herbie and Eric.

They stuck with the grueling work of the campaign and stuck with their candidate. And even with the thrill of the election victory and the excitement of the inaugural, President Obama never forgot his promise to his three young staffers.

And, indeed, in April 2009, the Obama family, along with Arun, Herbie and Eric, hosted Passover in the Blue Room. And that is how the first-ever White House seder came to be, a tradition the Obama family maintained for all of their eight years in the White House.

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Fact Sheet
When
Thursday, March 28, 2019, 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Where
Temple Israel
477 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Price
Free

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