[photo] Obama seder uses Maxwell House Haggadah-very kosher indeed

The White House blog posted this photo* of last night’s seder:


The president and his guests are using the Maxwell House Coffee Haggadah (which is the one we used at our cantor’s home on the first night). I recognized the outside decorations immediately, double-checked them here and then zoomed in on the official photo.

Here’s a close-up of the haggadah in President Obama’s hands and the one being held by the guest to Obama’s right:


You can see “Maxwell House” in white print on top of a blue box background.  This haggadah is extremely traditional and continues to be used my millions of Jews in the United States.  The Jewish Press says,

Maxwell House coffee has been recognized as a friend of the Jewish community since 1923, the year the well-known brand became certified as Kosher for Passover – the first coffee to seek this important designation. Then, about a decade later, working with Joseph Jacobs Advertising and an Orthodox rabbi to ensure accuracy, Maxwell House printed their first haggadah.

More than 70 years later, Maxwell House is still partnering with Joseph Jacobs to deliver the longest running sales promotion in advertising history. To this day, over 50 million haggadahs have been printed, making it the most widely used haggadah in the world.

I’m guessing the publisher is going to have a nice boost in production next year, nu? You can read another interesting historical review of the Maxwell House Haggadah here. Mark Oppenheimer, at Slate.com (and with whom I’m familiar because of his run at my hometown’s alt weekly, The New Haven Advocate) does a nice review of the myriad styles of haggadot now available here, and concludes that the Maxwell House one is his favorite:

The Haggadah I like best is the old Maxwell House Haggadah, filled with the “little kitschy scribbles” others find objectionable. According to Maxwell House, nearly 40 million of these handy little booklets have been distributed since 1934, when the coffee company first hit on an ingenious way to win Jewish customers’ loyalty. The 2007 edition is, like all its antecedents, apolitical and middlebrow, geared for mass appeal. But it’s clear and concise, and, most important, my parents and my in-laws all grew up on it. What it lacks in poetry, it makes up in ubiquity. It’s the Haggadah most evocative for my extended family, and there’s majesty in that simple claim, a claim that no better, smarter, more beautiful edition could ever make.

This photo at the White House appears to have been taken before any of the meal had been served, and it is awfully light…I wonder if they waited until the right time to have the meal, it’s a little hard to tell.  From the Hebrew on Obama’s page, they’re just a short while from the meal.  The Hebrew letters read, “Pesach, Matzah and Maror” – these are the three things you must have to have a sedar.

I gotta say – it all looks pretty kosher to me, as seders go.  Like I mentioned in other posts this year about the holiday, last night, our seder began with a play performed by about 10 children, all 12 and under, followed by a seder service full of kid-friendly singing an mayhem.  Jeans, cotton balls for hail and marinated salami for appetizer.  Not quite the Obama Seder, but suited us well.

*Hattip to this post by Lynn Sweet for identifying the seder guests:

Who’s who: From the President’s left is Samantha Tubman (she came to the original one in Harrisburg and now works for Social Secretary Desiree Rogers)…. Next to Tubman is Melissa Winter (deputy chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama) then First daughters Sasha, and Malia, then the First Lady.

Next to the First Lady is deputy White House counsel Susan Sher, and next to Susan Sher (out of view) are her sons Evan Moore and Michael Cohen, top White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and Obama pal and University of Chicago Medical Center honcho Eric Whitaker (who you can’t see).

On the other side of the table, to the President’s immediate right, is Susan Sher’s husband Neil Cohen. Next to him is Laura Moser (Arun Chaudhary wife), then White House videographer Arun Chaudhary, Vice President Biden aide Herbie Ziskend (Chaudhary and Ziskend were at Harrisburg) Eric Lesser, Lesser’s father, Martin Lesser, Deputy Director of Advance Lisa Kohnke, Mrs. Obama’s personal aide, Dana Lewis, and Obama personal assistant Reggie Love.

12 thoughts on “[photo] Obama seder uses Maxwell House Haggadah-very kosher indeed

  1. Pingback: White House Seder Tonight: Will They Use Maxwell House Again? : Writes Like She Talks

  2. Pingback: Details of President Obama’s 2010 Seder : Writes Like She Talks

  3. Thank you for showing this! I almost cried when I first saw this picture. Who would have EVER thought this would happen in the WH? Amazing! And I love the children being there – it shows it was a serious event – not just a political gesture. Michelle’s uncle is a Rabbi – wouldn’t it be great to see him there next time? Love this!
    Next year in Jerusalem!!!!

  4. Jay – thanks for reading and commenting – not sure what blogs you usually read/comment at, but you are wrong on at least two counts:

    1. Pres. Obama is not a Muslim. If you want to maintain that he is, I suggest you start a blog dedicated to that. If I ever write a post where I discuss what religion Obama is, you can return to discuss why you think he is a Muslim, but this post isn’t that one.

    2. As you can see in the high image resolution from the White House’s official photo of the event, several individuals are wearing kipot. You can wax and wane that they’re doctored or whatever – the people wearing them are Jews, they are wearing kipot and I really do not care whether the president chose to wear a kipah or not at this seder. My kids were not wearing kipot at our second seder either – held at someone else’s home, where some people were wearing them and some were not.

    Here’s the high res image link:

    Happy holidays to you and if you’re going to make these kinds of assertions on this blog, I’d urge you to have some back up. Thanks.

  5. As an observant Jew, I winder if this was his way of poking fun at the Jews as Muslims will do (He is a Muslim). Further, no one there was wearing kippot which is the respectful thing to do during a religious cerimonial meal.

  6. Hi Margalit – no! I didn’t notice that they each had their own seder plate – good pick up. And you’re also right about if there’s no charoset – that’s the best part to me, before the matzah ball soup that is. 🙂

  7. Hi Mark – very well could be Dayenu – definitely singing. But you are suggesting that the president may be on a the wrong page, or could it be that we can’t see the page? The Maxwell House definitely goes from right to left, I can’t recall off the top of my head re: when the song comes vis a vis the pesach, matzah, maror pronunciation.

    To be fair, though, she said laughing, I definitely don’t keep up on the right pages either so… 🙂

    Yes – it is very lovely.

  8. Shalom Jill,

    With so many beautiful and language friendly haggadoht out there, it’s a shame that the first White House Seder used the archaic Maxwell House haggadah.

    But, I do suppose that in a political sense, it is the most banal and least controversial. After all, the Obamas were not out to make a political statement, but rather a societal one.



  9. I have to admit I TOTALLY cracked up when I saw that the Obamas were using the Maxwell House Haggadot. I kind of think that maybe someone didn’t clue them in to the archaic language and the lack of child friendly prose. Like almost every other older American I too was brought up with the Maxwell House tome, but shed it once a host of new and more usable Haggadot became available. Now I collect Haggadot and have so many, but no longer have a Maxwell House copy. I must take care of that next year.

    Did you notice that each person had their own seder plate? There was no karpas on them, so they must have only had a small piece that they had already dipped. And I didn’t see any charoset either. Mmmmm…. charoset!

  10. “From the Hebrew on Obama’s page, they’re just a short while from the meal.” I am going to disagree and suggest that Samantha Tubman is on the correct page and that we have a photo showing the singing of “Dayenu” Ms. Tubman seems to be beating time on the table with her left hand, very true to Jewish tradition, and the other guests have open mouths that appear to be singing at the time the photo is taken. Interesting detail that each person has there own individual sedar plate with appropriate symbols. Also note that we can see that they have completed reciting the ten plagues, note the neat drops of wine on the President’s and on Ms. Tubman’s Plates.
    And I would like to add that this is just so beautiful and hopeful to see.

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