While the story has received minimal mainstream media coverage here in the U.S. it was much bigger news in the Jewish and Israeli press. The historical significance was not lost on The Jerusalem Post:
'I'm really happy to hear about it,' said Steve Rabinowitz, who once led a staff Seder in the Clinton White House but didn't know of any White House Seder in which the president had personally taken part before now. 'It's been an extremely open White House to all faith communities, certainly including ours.'
William Daroff, who runs the United Jewish Communities' Washington office, recalled that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt snuck out the back door of the White House in 1943 to avoid seeing rabbis marching out front to demand US action to save European Jews from the Nazis.
'Sixty-six years later the President of the United States is spending Thursday evening with his friends and family celebrating the liberation and survival of the Jewish people,' Daroff noted, calling the event 'a testament to how far we have come as a Jewish people in America.'
In a bit of irony former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) chose today to declare that the Obama administration is "anti-religious". He was referring to the appointment of Harry Knox, a former Methodist minister and an outspoken gay rights advocate to the White House advisory council on faith-based initiatives. Apparently Mr. Gingrich believes anything other than right-wing evangelical Christianity isn't worthy of consideration as a religion. There are any number of liberal and tolerant Christian denominations. Reform Judaism is openly supportive of gay rights as are many in the Conservative (Masorti) movement.
I'm often asked why Jews tend to vote Democratic by conservative friends who see liberals as insufficiently supportive of Israel. While many European leaders were issuing warnings and thinly veiled threats to the new Israeli government even before Prime Minister Netanyahu officially took office President Obama chose that day to declare America's "unwavering support" for Israel. Support for Israel among Democratic leaders is not lacking.
Many right-wing Republicans, on the other hand, are very tied to Christian fundamentalism. Mr. Gingrich also accused President Obama of being "intensely secular". As a Jewish woman and a member of a religious minority in this country I am more comfortable with a secular government than an intolerant fundamentalist Christian one. My mainstream Jewish values are very different than those of the American Christian religious right.
I, for one, am grateful to President Obama's support for Israel even if I have some reservations about specific elements of his foreign policy. I think Mr. Gingrich's comments on the day before the President is taking part in a truly historic Jewish religious observance illustrate very well why I can't support his views.
To President Obama, and to all my readers:
Hag Sameach! Happy Passover!