Forward Thinking

We Got Bupkis From White House Seder

By Nathan Guttman

White House Photo

What would you do if you’d have to choose between spending the second night of Passover with your family (and with your twins celebrating their birthday on that same day) and laboring in someone else’s kitchen for hours?

For acclaimed chef/beloved wife Vered Guttman, there wasn’t much of a dilemma. She gladly left me and the kids with a sink full of dishes from the previous night’s (first) Seder and went on to roll matzo balls for another family’s second Seder.

The fact that this Seder was hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama and that the kitchen was located in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, can perhaps make leaving your family behind a bit more understandable.

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Did You Get Invited to Obama's Hanukkah Party?

By Nathan Guttman

It’s time to check your inbox. The White House has sent out invitation for this year’s Hanukkah reception hosted by President Obama.

It is a good way of measuring one’s status in the world of Jewish leadership. If you’re not invited to the White House reception you’re either from the wrong party (in that case you might want to check out the RJC’s party) or you’ve just no longer a “Jewish leader.”

The good news is that this year’s list of invitees, which usually reaches 300-400 members of the tribe, is expected to be even bigger. In fact, the traditional White House Hanukkah reception will, for the first time, be divided into two receptions, one after the other.

The events, an administration source promised, would be identical, so no need to fret over which reception is better. They’ll be plenty of Jewish VIP’s at both events. Israeli-born Grammy winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari is expected to perform, and, just as in previous years, the White House kitchen will be made kosher for one day, to provide for the crowd.

For those who did not get a White House invitation, they’ll be a host of other opportunities to light the Menorah with Washington movers and shakers: at the Congress, the Pentagon, and of course the traditional lighting of the National Menorah sponsored by Chabad at the Ellipse just south of the White House, next to the national Christmas tree.

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Obama Seder Reflects Common Bond With Jews

By Devra Ferst

Just before the doors of the Old Family Dining Room swing open to welcome Elijah to the White House Seder, Dr. Eric Whitaker, a friend of President Obama, reads aloud the Emancipation Proclamation.

White House/Pete Souza
Welcoming Elijah: First Lady Michelle Obama lights candles to begin last year’s White House Seder.

Last week, as I researched the Obama Seder (the only Seder hosted by a sitting President), I was struck by several things, including the homey feeling of it and the extraordinary circumstances of the first Seder on the campaign trail in 2008. But nothing struck me as much as this profound reminder of the real meaning of Passover.

The Emancipation Proclamation is perhaps the grandest-named document in American history aside from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But the practical implications for slaves when it was enacted on January 1, 1863, were far fewer than its name would imply.

Issued by Abraham Lincoln, the document only liberated a very small number of slaves. Freedom for most black Americans didn’t come about until the Civil War was won and the 13th Amendment was adopted nearly three years later. And, of course, it took a century more before even a semblance of real equality was achieved.

Despite its shortcomings, the sentiment of the document can not be overlooked. It was a crucial step in the fight to create a country where freedom and equality are rights granted to everyone.

Similarly, during the Seder, we end the story of the Exodus long before the Jewish people reach the Promised Land (40 years, to be precise). And most of those liberated from Egypt would die on that long journey towards a truly free life.

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Meet the Four Jews Shaping the U.S. Economy

By Nathan Guttman

Getty Images

This could sound like yet another bad-taste Oscar night joke, but turns out that the U.S. economy is run by Jews.

Well, at least the federal government’s top advisers.

On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, as Treasury Secretary. He will joined by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council at the White House, Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jeffrey Zients, who heads the Office of Management and Budget. All are Members of the Tribe.

With Lew’s confirmation as Treasury Secretary, he is officially no longer the White House chief of staff. But the Jewish community, a former official with the administration assured, will not lose access. His replacement, Dennis McDonough may be Catholic, but he still has a soft spot for Jewish activists. During his tenure as deputy national security adviser, McDonough launched a tradition of monthly conference calls with Jewish leaders for updates on international issues and was known to meet with almost every major Jewish federation delegation that came to Washington.

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Jake Tapper's Afghan Journey

By Curt Schleier

Jake Tapper is best known as the senior White House correspondent for ABC News. But he is also the author of two well-regarded nonfiction books, a biography of wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura and an account of the 2000 presidential election. His newest work, “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor” (Little, Brown and Company), is likely one of the most important books to come out of the war in Afghanistan.

“The Outpost” about soldiers stationed at an isolated base in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, with orders to prevent Taliban fighters from passing into nearby Pakistan. The top brass placed the soldiers in a valley surrounded by high mountains, with a single road leading in and out that could barely accommodate a pick-up truck, let alone larger military vehicles. The position was essentially indefensible — as, frankly, was the plan that put them there.

It was only a matter of time before the base was overrun. On October 3, 2009, more than 400 Taliban fighters attacked 53 soldiers at Outpost Keating (named for an officer killed in an accident while attempting to drive along that road). More than 100 Taliban members were killed, as well as eight Americans.

Tapper intended to write a book about that battle, but as he conducted more research and met veterans of the outpost, it became clear there was a larger story there. Tapper spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about how he first learned about the battle, what changed the focus of the book and the lessons he carries with him from the seven years he spent studying at the Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) outside Philadelphia.

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Jack Lew's Shabbat Helper

By Nathan Guttman

getty images

When Jack Lew was appointed chief of staff to President Obama in January, many in the Jewish community wondered how he could observe Shabbat in such a demanding position.

Luckily, Lew has the most powerful man in the world to keep track of time as the sun starts to dip low in the sky on Friday afternoons.

“I saw the president on many occasions on Friday afternoons look at his watch, and ask: ‘Isn’t it time for you to get going?’” Lew said, “or, ‘Why are you still here?’ The president was not checking the clock “because he doesn’t think I can keep time,” Lew said. Rather, the extra care on this issue reflects the President’s wish “to remind me that it’s important to him, not just to me, that I be able to make that balance.”

Lew, who is Orthodox, revealed the details about his keeping Shabbat in an extraordinary interview with the Forward that touched on his need to observe the Jewish holy day.

“And he’s respected that time and again,” the chief of staff said of Obama.

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