President Obama’s decision to celebrate Passover in the White House was born on the campaign trail in 2008, when then-Senator Obama joined a few of his Jewish aides for a makeshift seder in the basement of a Pennsylvania hotel. “Next year in the White House,’’ quipped Obama after the ritual feast concluded with the traditional wish, “Next year in Jerusalem.’’
Since then the Obamas have added their own touch to the retelling of the story of the exodus of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The White House seder now concludes with the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and its demand that “all persons held as slaves . . . are, and henceforward shall be free.’’ The affirmation dovetails perfectly with a holiday that Jews around the world call the “Season of Our Freedom.’’
These are not mere retellings of miraculous escapes. The central message of Passover is that freedom from slavery — anywhere and in any form — depends on the actions of people as much as it rests in the hand of God. Slaves in America knew this well, having taken many steps to win their freedom long before Lincoln delivered the proclamation in 1863.
While preparing his table for a Jewish holiday, Obama also set a place for human history.