Capital Jewish Museum Hopes Obama’s Seder Will Become a Holiday Tradition

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President Barack Obama hosts his first White House seder on April 9, 2009. Official White House photo by Pete Souza

When the Capital Jewish Museum opens on June 9, it will feature Jewish artifacts, both historically significant and reflective of mundane Jewish life.

But during future Passover seasons, museum staff predict one collection will stand out: items used at President Barack Obama’s seders from 2009-2016.

Items include a seder plate, a Haggadah and a hand mixer used by guest chef Susan Barocas, who cooked in the White House kitchen for the seder.

The seder plate used at the Obama White House seders. Capital Jewish Museum Collection. Gift of Jane Moser.

Barocas donated the hand mixer directly to the museum, along with some other items from her time in the White House kitchen, said Maura Scanlon, the museum’s communications specialist.

“Each work in this collection is very different in how it came to the museum, and each has a different story to tell,” added Scanlon.

Also in the White House seder collection is a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation that Obama read at the end of each year’s seder. The copy was donated to the museum by Jarrod Bernstein, who worked in the Obama administration as a White House Jewish Liaison.

Bernstein said he found reading the Emancipation Proclamation at the White House seder particularly moving.

Susan Barocas’ hand mixer, c. 1960s.
Capital Jewish Museum Collection. Gift of Susan Barocas.

“That was the day Barack Obama taught me about the meaning of Passover,” he recalled. “I got up to leave and thank the president and first lady for inviting me, and [Obama] said, ‘We’re not done yet.’ I was confused, but an aide appeared at the door with Xerox copies of the text of the Emancipation Proclamation, which the president read in a call-and-response method. Now, at my family seders, we still finish by reading the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Bernstein also donated the White House Haggadah used at the seder.

“I was honored to be part of this testament to the Jewish people’s place in American history,” he said of his contributions to the museum’s collection.

Not all of the Passover items in the museum’s collection are from the White House. The museum also has the Haggadah from the 1969 Freedom Seder, a year after the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote in a 2018 Religion Dispatches article that he came up with the idea for the seder after he witnessed an armed military jeep threatening his neighbors in Washington, D.C., following King’s assassination. Waskow connected the fight for civil rights to the Passover story.

He noted that some 800 people attended the seder at the Lincoln Temple, a Black church in Washington, D.C. They used a Haggadah that connected the struggle of African Americans seeking civil rights with the oppression of the Jews. That was 40 years before Obama made the same connection by incorporating the Emancipation Proclamation into the White House Passover seder. ■

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