Belief Beat

The major Jewish holiday of Passover starts tonight, with families and friends gathered to tell the Exodus story over Seder meals. The New York Times reports that President Obama will again preside over a White House Seder, a new tradition, where his family and more than a dozen “mostly Jewish and African-American guests will recite prayers and retell the biblical story of slavery and liberation.”

It’s hardly the first Passover effort to bring Jews and African-Americans together; the theme of escaping from slavery resonates with each group. (Several years ago, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly aired a piece about the annual “Freedom Seder” at the University of Massachussets at Amherst; sponsores for this year’s April 8 event include UMass Amherst’s Office of Jewish Affairs, Black Student Union, and Muslim Students Association.) But, given the recent tension between the Obama administration and Israel, perhaps this concept will take on additional importance this year.

haggadah-cover-2010.0317.pngSeveral other themes might emerge at this year’s White House Seder, the NYT reports, such as health care reform. Based on my own reporting, there are plenty of new ideas the Obamas could incorporate into tonight’s observance: relating the Dayenu song of gratitude to the Haitian relief efforts; using iPhone apps and other high-tech gadgets to help with their Hebrew; considering the present-day plight of Jews who have fled difficult circumstances in the Middle East. As for the prayer book, the White House would be an appropriate venue for the new American Jewish Legacy Passover Haggadah, which peppers the prayers with 350 years of historical tidbits, including letters describing how Union and Confederate soldiers celebrated Passover during the Civil War.

Any other ideas for Obama’s Passover observance? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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