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Obama brings Passover to White House

26 March 2013, 11:36

Washington - US President Barack Obama marked the start of the Jewish celebration of Passover on Monday, a ritual he began on the campaign trail when his own bid for the White House was in trouble.

Obama, the first US president to observe the Passover Seder at the White House, hosted the small gathering only two days after returning from a Middle East trip featuring a visit to Israel.

The White House ceremony, which Obama has held every year since he took office in 2009, follows tradition except for a few additions, such as the reading of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation that freed America's slaves, officials said.

"This is something that the president started doing with members of his staff and some friends during the campaign in 2008," White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

"It was an opportunity for him to spend some time with staff on the campaign, with friends, and it was a very meaningful moment on the campaign for him," he said.

That first Passover Seder for Obama was held in Pennsylvania, where he faced a strong challenge from his then rival Hillary Clinton, during their hard-fought battle for the Democratic party's presidential nomination.

Small ceremony

Three young Jewish aides for the then-senator organised an improvised dinner in a hotel basement, and Obama, a Christian, asked if he could join them.

"And as president, this is a tradition that he's continued here in the White House, where many of the staff members who participated in that dinner in 2008 have been invited back to participate in the dinner in subsequent years," Earnest said.

At the 2008 Passover Seder, his aides concluded the ceremony with the traditional prayer, "Next year in Jerusalem." And Obama reportedly added: "Next year in the White House."

The ceremony has been kept small and in keeping with tradition, the Washington Post reported.

During the president's trip to Israel last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife gave the Obamas a silver Passover Seder plate that officials said would be used on Monday.

In a speech in Jerusalem, Obama said Passover - which recounts the Jews fleeing slavery in ancient Egypt by crossing the Red Sea - carried a universal message that resonates with Americans, particularly African-Americans.

Obama said he brought the Passover celebration to the White House because "I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah, and the story at the centre of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful."

"In the United States - a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew - we're naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land."



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