Jewish Journal


April 8, 2009

Is Barack Obama Jewish?



Photo: AFP

Of course not. Though last year, Daniel Koffler gave then-Sen. Barack Obama “honorary wandering Jew” status.

But tomorrow night, Obama will make good on all those Jewish votes he received and will join millions of Jews across the country asking “why is this night different from all other nights.” In doing so, Obama will become what is believed to be the first American president to attend a White House Seder.

More from JPost:

The event was slipped onto the president’s public schedule Tuesday night with little fanfare, following a letter signed by Obama earlier in the day wishing Americans who mark the day a “peaceful and relaxing holiday.”

While presidential proclamations in honor of Passover have been common throughout the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, this year’s Seder is believed to be the first of its kind.

“I’m really happy to hear about it,” said Steve Rabinowitz, who once led a staff Seder in the Clinton White House but didn’t know of any White House Seder in which the president had personally taken part before now. “It’s been an extremely open White House to all faith communities, certainly including ours.”

William Daroff, who runs the United Jewish Communities’ Washington office, recalled that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt snuck out the back door of the White House in 1943 to avoid seeing rabbis marching out front to demand US action to save European Jews from the Nazis.

“Sixty-six years later the President of the United States is spending Thursday evening with his friends and family celebrating the liberation and survival of the Jewish people,” Daroff noted, calling the event “a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America.

“Jews are a vital component in the mosaic that is American culture and society. Our welcome through the front door, and the dining room door, of the White House speaks to the inclusiveness of today’s America and of President Obama,” he said. “This night is indeed different from all other nights.”

I wonder what parallels Obama will see the Passover celebration between the stories of the Israelites and African Americans. Last spring, in light of some tension between blacks and Jews in Los Angeles, I attended a joint Seder and came back with this:

“African Americans have always looked at the history of Israel as symbolic to our history,” said [SCLC local leader the Rev. Eric] Lee, who said he has celebrated Passover for years. “God doesn’t change. He has always been the God of the oppressed, who delivers from the oppressor.”

“Can you actually imagine,” Lee continued, “if we lived out the principles of the seder?”

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