Monday, April 13, 2009

The president's seder

I admit to mixed feelings about the Obama family Pesach seder, which took place Thursday night in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House.

In no particular order, those mixed feelings are:

(1) Appreciation A seder is a grind, not a happy party with passed hor dours and sparkling drinks. To host and sit through one is a demonstration of fellowship and respect -- for us, for our faith, and for the fact of our full citizenship. Sixty short years after the Holocaust, that means something. Though our best buddy Bush was good for a Hanukkah party - occasionally on the wrong day - and gained a measure of fame when he became the first sitting president to host the Islamic feast of Eid al-fitr, Bush never sat through maggid.

(2) Doubt Did Obama really sit through maggid? I can't find any accounts of the event that describe the liturgy the president and his guests used, but I do sort of say B.S to the suggestion that he read all those proof texts and glosses. I suspect he did the Four Questions, and maybe Raban Gamliel, and I base this guess on some of community model seders I've had the misfortune of attending, but I really don't know. Still, is that enough? If the maggid was perfunctory (as, let's admit, it probably was) does that make the seder less of a gesture and more of a pander? If so, when is the line crossed? (I used the word "pander" incorrectly two sentences ago. Poetic license. You know what I meant)

(3) Sentimentality. There is something exquisitely precious about the thought of Obama, Emanuel and Axelrod joining hands and singing together in the words of the old Jewish spiritual: "Then we were slaves, now we are free." (Note: I doubt they joined hands and sung; also I can't confirm Axelrod and Emanual were in attendance. I said the thought was precious)

(4) I don't really know what to call this last feeling, but its something like, hey, the seder belongs to us, you claim jumper, and if you aren't going to do it right, don't do it at all. I confess this feeling is ridiculous, in that the seder doesn't really belong to anyone and that so long as your way of doing it makes you happy, you've done it right, but still.... I can't shake this feeling that somehow something sacred has been slightly cheapened, and, intentially or not, converted into a political stunt.

Search for more information about the seder at

No comments: