Starting tomorrow night, the Jewish community in the United States, Israel, and throughout the world will come together to celebrate the holiday of Passover.
President and Mrs. Obama will join them, continuing their tradition of hosting a small Seder at the White House. By now, the story of how that tradition began has been told and retold, but in the spirit of Passover, I'll tell it again: In April of 2008, the President and his staff were on the trail in Pennsylvania in the midst of a long primary campaign. Weary from a long day of work and away from their families, a small group of staffers came together to hold an impromptu Seder. When then-Senator Obama got wind of the Seder, he gathered some other staff and friends and decided to join. At the end of the Seder, the President followed the traditional "Next year in Jerusalem" declaration with a pledge of his own - "Next year in the White House." Each year since, he has followed through on that promise. This year, he also added a new touch, a video message to Jews everywhere wishing them Chag Sameach as they continue their own traditions or start new ones this Passover.
At many seders, the topic of politics will more than likely come up-often because one of the guests received one of the many false and malicious emails floating around the internet. That dinner guest should be replied to with these four questions:
Why has President Obama provided record amounts of military aid to Israel — including double the amount of supplemental funding for missile defense programs, like the Iron Dome, that are saving Israeli lives today?
Why has President Obama worked so hard and succeeded at uniting the world against Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program, while voting with Israel 100% of the time at the United Nations — earning the plaudits of Israel's leaders?
Why has President Obama achieved the historic passage of "Obamacare," which has already permitted 2.5 million young adults to remain on their parents' health care plans — and will end discrimination for those with pre-existing conditions, ultimately providing coverage to 34 million more Americans?
Why has President Obama fought to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid, keeping our commitment to our seniors — and our collective commitment to help those in need through shared responsibility?
The answer to all of these questions is:
President Obama cares deeply about the safety and security of the Jewish state. He has been Israel's leading advocate from day one and has done more than any other President to meaningfully bolster its defenses and provide for its future. He also cares deeply about the welfare of all Americans, including our seniors and the needy — and our commitment to them.
For these reasons, President Obama deserves our thanks.
With 1 in 6 Americans struggling to put nutritious food on the table every day, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger hosted Members of Congress, Administration officials, and national faith and anti-poverty leaders at the National Hunger Seder at the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center. Seder participants made the case for protecting and strengthening funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) as legislators begin to negotiate the 2012 Farm Bill Reauthorization.
SNAP and MAZON have also developed a version of the 2012 Hunger Seder you can using in your own home to promote "hunger awareness and activism.
Similarly, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network develops issue oriented material each year you can use to enrich your seder. Supplements to the traditional Haggadah relate the biblical story of the Exodus to current events and issues.
The 2012 Freedom Supplement, comprised of 16 pages with illustrations, is now available without charge. The Freedom Seder Supplement celebrates emerging freedom movements around the world with poems, texts and prayers. Editors Stephen C. Sussman Esq. and Kenneth R. Myers Esq. have drawn from far-ranging sources, from Lord Byron to Tibet. Each of the readings includes suggestions keying it into the traditional Seder service.
In 2010 JSPAN released its first Supplement, entitled We were strangers, on the theme of immigration in history and in the United States.
In 2011 the JSPAN Supplement, This is the bread of poverty, brought the focus to hunger here and around the world. The 2012 "Freedom Seder" takes up the human longing for freedom that is spreading around the globe, and concludes with four resolutions that we as American Jews can meaningfully adopt.
More about the National Hunger Seder after the jump.
In preparation for the upcoming Passover holiday, President Barack Obama invited members of the Jewish community to the White House for a special cooking demonstration and discussion. Sponsored by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Endowment for the Humanities, White House chef Bill Yosses worked with Jewish chef Joan Nathan to demonstrate how to make, among other dishes, apple and pear charoset and matzo chremsel.
Haaretz writer Vered Guttman was one of the guests invited to the event. Guttman wrote:
Before the seder each year, guests are asked to send Bill and White House executive chef Cris Comerford their own family's Passover recipes. The chefs then design a menu for the seder and prepare the dishes according to the guests' recipes.
In previous years they served the classics: haroset and brisket. When we met Wednesday. Bill said they were still working on this year's menu. He did know, however, which desserts would be served: A flourless chocolate cake (which he promises will be on the White House website before the holiday) and a delicious sounding apricot roll cake, that he was kind enough to share the recipe with me. Bill gets extra points for a dessert that is not only fabulous, but also inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine. Does the president eat Jewish or Israeli food during the year? I asked.
'The president LOVES Israeli couscous!' Bill didn't have to think much before he answered. Since Israeli couscous is one of the most popular foods imported from Israel, it is often the target of boycott threats by anti-Israeli groups.
The President called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today to convey his best wishes before the start of Passover. Noting that he would host a seder at the White House, the President recalled that the story of Passover is one of liberation and freedom, and expressed his hope that the Israeli people would be able to celebrate in peace. The two leaders also discussed U.S.-Israeli cooperation on counter-terrorism, how best to move forward in efforts to advance Middle East peace, and the recent violence near the Gaza strip.
Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his deep appreciation for U.S. funding for the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which he noted has successfully intercepted several rockets aimed at Israeli communities. The President congratulated the Prime Minister on this impressive Israeli technological achievement and expressed his pride that Israeli-American cooperation made it possible. With the signing of the fiscal year 2011 budget appropriation, the President approved $205 million in U.S. funding for Iron Dome, which is above the annual package of Foreign Military Financing for Israel.
The President and the Prime Minister agreed to stay in close touch on the range of issues facing the United States and Israel.
Passover Greetings from the President to the Jewish Community and Comments from David Harris follow the jump.
It is a custom for firstborn Jews to fast on the day before Passover to commemorate the miracle by which firstborn Jews were saved from the plague which struck the firstborn Egyptians.
This year the fast falls on Monday, April 18. Let us take this fast of our choosing as an opportunity to share in the hardship of those who struggle through life, and do not have the means to feed themselves properly.
MoveOn is organizing a communal fast to protest the immoral budget cuts Republicans are pushing in Washington. 30,000 people including 28 Congressmen will be joining this fast.
Last week's budget agreement-now public-contains cuts to critical programs but does little to make corporations and the rich pay their fair share.
More than half of the $38 billion in cuts target education, labor, and health programs.
The worst cuts and riders didn't make it into the budget-but that was the Republican plan all along: propose the unthinkable, threaten to shut down the government, and then walk away with cuts that would have been beyond the pale just a few months ago.
Now Republicans are pushing a new round of proposals to abolish Medicare and make far deeper cuts to education, nutrition, health care, and other essential programs-while giving even bigger tax breaks to millionaires and corporations. And this time, after winning so much in the last round, the Republicans actually have a shot at getting every last cut they want.
We need to restore a moral dimension to the warped debate going on in Washington.
See video above for more information.
A letter from Abby J. Leibman of Mazon follows the jump.
This year my wife and I will be spending one seder at her mother's and one at my mother's, but in the future, we may be starting our own Passover traditions. And I admit, I am completely lost.
I began thinking about the Passovers I knew growing up, and how the holiday was the same every year. There'd be an occasional change in which random elderly cousin coughed a lot in the last seat, but from five to fifteen years old, I had twenty identical seders.
It would be unfair of me to expect that the seders my wife and I might throw in the future will involve just my traditions and not hers. So to help me think about which I'd like to keep (and entertain a few readers simultaneously), I wanted to recount the memories that most say Passover to me. I'd bet at least a few of these will remind you of your childhood, and help you determine what you'd like to keep, should you ever JDate your way to your own family.
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