Blog Posts Related to the American Jewish Community
- Posted byon April 21, 2014 at 11:01 AM EST
This year, as they have every Passover since coming to the White House, President and Mrs. Obama hosted the annual White House Seder. The tradition dates back to 2008, when the President celebrated Passover with staffers and friends on the campaign trail. After his election the President fulfilled his promise to host the Seder “next year in the White House” if he was elected. This year’s Seder incorporated traditional elements and foods of the Seder, including the Gefilte Fish Matzo Ball Soup, the Hillel Sandwich, and “Dayenu.”
There were several new elements as well. Two chefs who specialize in Jewish cooking—Susan Barocas and Vered Guttman—assisted White House Chef Cris Comerford with the meal and brought new additions to the menu, including a salad of quinoa cooked in coconut milk with Tuscan kale and roasted yams, and chicken with green olives. Underscoring how the Exodus, one of humanity’s great liberation stories, resonates so strongly in the American experience, guests also read the Emancipation Proclamation.
Vered, who writes the “Modern Manna” blog for the English edition of Ha’aretz, wrote about what it was like to be a guest chef for the seder here.
The full menu for this year, prepared by White House Chef Cris Comerford, White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, Susan Barocas and Vered Guttman, included:
- Gefilte fish
- Chicken soup with matzoh balls
- Salad of quinoa cooked in coconut milk with Tuscan kale and roasted yams
- Wilted spinach
- Carrot soufflé
- Passover Noodle kugel
- Roasted potatoes with garlic and onion
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Seared aalmon with roasted artichokes
- Chicken with preserved lemons and green olives
- Braised beef brisket
- Raspberry ganache marjolaine
- Passover brownies
- Passover mandel bread
Matt Nosanchuk is the Director for Outreach on the National Security Council.
- Posted byon April 14, 2014 at 3:27 PM EST
Haroset, symbolic of the mortar the Jewish slaves of ancient Egypt used to build the Pharaoh’s cities and store-houses, is probably one of the favorite foods of Passover with recipes passed down in families from generation to generation.
Since most American Jews come from Ashkenazic backgrounds, they enjoy a version of haroset using just apples and walnuts, explains Susan Barocas, founder of the Jewish Food Experience, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. At the end of a long winter, apples likely would have been the only fruit left in cold cellars in Central and Eastern Europe.
But the truth is that recipes for haroset are as varied and unique as the families that celebrate, with the ingredients reflecting the ingredients and flavors available in the all the many lands where Jews have lived. Figs, apricots, dates and oranges are popular in different haroset along with a variety of nuts and spices such as ginger and allspice.
In the end, haroset-making is deliciously imprecise. Nearly everything can be—and is—adjusted to personal taste. Making haroset by hand with a knife or in a chopping bowl is laborious, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to involve children and others in holiday preparations. But not to be discounted—the food processor makes it easy to prepare more than one kind of haroset to enjoy as part of your Passover, celebrating all the many journeys of Jews around the world through the many generations.
Here are three haroset recipes from Susan. Feel free to add the word “about” in front of any of the measurements!
TRADITIONAL ASHKENAZIC HAROSET
The apple-to-nut ratio, as well as what kind of apples to use, are up to the haroset maker. This version of this Passover classic has more of those ingredients and less sugar than other recipes. Even the consistency varies widely. Some people like it ground to a fine paste; others leave it chunky. It’s up to individual taste.
- 1 cup walnuts
- 3 apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into about 8 pieces
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or to taste
- 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste
- 2 to 3 tablespoons grape juice or sweet Passover wine
Put the walnuts in the chopping bowl if doing by hand or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Roughly chop into large dice or pulse just a few times in the processor, being careful not over-process. Add the apple pieces and chop or pulse to desired consistency. Add rest of ingredients and stir well to blend. Makes about 2 cups.
MOROCCAN HAROSET BALLS
A typical Moroccan haroset recipe contains dried fruits and spices ground to a paste-like consistency. Traditionally, Moroccan-Jewish families roll the haroset into small balls that are delicious eaten alone or squished between two pieces of matzah. They also make a delicious snack or part of a Passover breakfast.
- 3/4 cup walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts
- 1 1/2 cups pitted dates
- 1/2 cup dried apricots
- 2 or 3 dried figs
- 1 cup raisins (dark, golden or any combination)
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 or 2 pinches allspice
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sweet red wine or grape juice
- Finely ground walnuts or almonds (optional)
Using a food processor, pulse to coarsely chop the nuts, then add all the rest of the ingredients except the wine and finely ground nuts. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped and well blended, adding just enough wine as you are pulsing to make the mixture stick together. Too much and it will be too sticky. As you pulse it, the mixture will form a large ball. Now you are ready to roll. Very slightly dampen hands with cold water. Gently roll the mixture into balls about ¾ inches in diameter or your desired size. Place the balls on a tray or baking sheet covered in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours. Serve or store in a covered container. Or you can roll each ball in finely ground nuts, which will keep them from sticking together so they can be stored immediately in a covered container. These treats will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator, but rarely last that long. Makes about 24 balls.
Presenting this haroset shaped into a pyramid is traditional among the Jews of Persia. This recipe reflects the many fruits and spices of ancient Persia, known since 1935 as Iran. Jews have lived in Persia for over 2,500 years and developed a delicious, healthy cuisine alongside the larger Persian community. Any Persian haroset recipe almost always includes tropical fruits that grow in the country. A wide variety of nuts is used throughout Persian cooking, as reflected in the four types used here. Unlike the very sweet Ashkenazi haroset, this recipe adds a taste of cider vinegar, very typical of the savory-sweet combination found in Persian cooking.
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 3/4 cup raw and unsalted almonds
- 3/4 cup raw hazelnuts
- 3/4 cup raw and unsalted pistachio nuts
- 2 unpeeled pears, cored and cut into chunks
- 1 unpeeled apple, cored and cut into chunks
- 1 cup dates, pitted
- 2 small oranges or 1 large, peeled, pitted, sectioned and finely chopped with juice
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger root
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Sweet Passover wine or grape juice
Pulse nuts in food processor until finely chopped. Put into a large bowl. Chop the fruits, except the orange, by pulsing also, being careful not to chop the mixture into a paste. Add all the fruit, including the orange already chopped by hand and its juice, to nuts and stir to blend well. Add cinnamon, ginger root, cider vinegar and just enough wine to bind. Mix very well. Place haroset mixture on a square platter and shape into a pyramid using your hands. A flat spatula can be used to smooth the “walls.” Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours to let the flavors blend.
Matt Nosanchuk is the White House Liaison to the American Jewish community.
- Posted byon March 14, 2014 at 9:57 AM EST
Tomorrow evening, Jews in America, Israel and around the globe will celebrate Purim, a holiday known for costumes, carnivals and noisemakers. Even rabbis and synagogue presidents dress up for a playful re-telling of the holiday story during Purim spoofs called spiels. With all the fun of the holiday, it’s also important to remember Purim’s more serious underlying themes of persecution and survival in the face of the planned genocide of ancient Persia’s Jews. Based on events over 2,000 years ago, these themes resonate throughout the centuries and in today’s world as well. By speaking up and speaking out, justice will triumph over evil.
President Obama, Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew Underscore and Reaffirm the Strength of the U.S.-Israel RelationshipPosted byon March 6, 2014 at 9:50 AM EST
“We do not have a closer friend or ally than Israel and the bond between our two countries and our two peoples is unbreakable.”—President Barack Obama, March 3, 2014, Bilateral Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The beginning of March provided several important opportunities for President Obama and senior administration officials to underscore that unshakeable bond between the United States and Israel. As they do every year, thousands of delegates to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2014 Policy Conference came to Washington for an annual event that attracts bipartisan support. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appearance at AIPAC provided an opportunity for a meeting with President Obama at the White House. The two leaders discussed the status of the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, progress on the P5+1 negotiations with Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and regional issues, including the situations in Syria and Egypt. As the President noted in his public remarks at the beginning of the meeting, “on a whole spectrum of issues we consult closely; we have the kind of military, intelligence and security cooperation that is unprecedented. And there is a strong bipartisan commitment in this country to make sure that Israel’s security is preserved in any contingency.”
Watch the video of the opening remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the beginning of their bilateral meeting below:
To read a transcript of the remarks, click here.
Secretary Kerry’s Speech to AIPAC
On Monday, March 3, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the AIPAC 2014 Policy Conference about the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
On Iran, Secretary Kerry reaffirmed the Obama Administration’s bottom-line in the negotiations: “let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal: We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.” While the United States seeks to achieve this goal through diplomacy, Secretary Kerry reiterated that “no deal is better than a bad deal” and emphasized the following:
"[T]he United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way. First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon? Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims? And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?"
Turning to his tireless efforts to support the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to end the decades-old conflict, Secretary Kerry described how he is working hard to help the parties reach a two-state solution that brings Israelis the security and peace they deserve and the Palestinians the freedom and dignity they deserve:
"My friends, we understand that Israel has to be strong in order to make peace. But we also understand that peace will make Israel stronger. Any peace agreement must also guarantee Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland. As [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak said on this stage last year, a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to stay true to its founding principles – to remain both Jewish and democratic."
To read the full transcript of Secretary Kerry’s remarks, click here.
Secretary Lew’s Address at AIPAC
Treasury Secretary Lew emphasized that the U.S.-Israel relationship, which is "rooted in our shared story of people yearning to be masters of their own destiny, is as vibrant as ever.” Since the Department of the Treasury has the responsibility for administering and enforcing the existing sanctions against the Iranian regime, Secretary Lew described the administration’s vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions and emphasized that notwithstanding the limited relief that has been provided under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran is not “open for business”:
"Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place. Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate. And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
To read the full transcript of Secretary Lew’s speech, click here.
Matt Nosanchuk is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Mobilizing for a Healthier Future: Participate in the Jewish Community Day of Action for Health Care Coverage on February 18thPosted byon February 18, 2014 at 8:48 AM EST
The number 18 is a powerful number in Jewish heritage. It represents “chai,” meaning life. Today, taking care of ourselves and others so that we all live love and healthy lives is more important than ever. The Jewish community has always placed a high importance on mental, spiritual, and physical health. Whether it’s your mother’s matzoball soup when you’re sick or helping someone from your temple get the care they need, maintaining good health for a long life is a core Jewish value.
In order to ensure that every person, regardless of gender or age or preexisting condition, has access to our nation’s healthcare system, we are getting the word out on how Americans and their families can access health affordable, quality health insurance between now and March 31 in the federal and state health insurance Marketplaces. Since October 1, more than 3 million people have enrolled in a private insurance program through the Marketplaces, and over 6.3 million have enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP through state agencies or state-based marketplaces. It’s impossible to know when illness could strike, and it’s crucial that every American have some form of health insurance. That’s why we’re making a big push to educate about enrolling in the healthcare exchanges for everyone we know.
On February 18th, in partnership with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), we’re calling on congregations, Jewish advocacy and social service organizations, and anyone in the Jewish community who is interest to participate in the Jewish Community Day of Action for Health Care Coverage. Here are 18 ways that you or the organizations you belong to or work with can participate in the Day of Action, which is all about ensuring a healthy future for Americans and their families, including in the American Jewish community. We hope you will join us!
18 Ways to Participate in February 18th Day of Action
- Post on Facebook to remind your friends of key dates and facts about enrolling in the health insurance marketplace. Visit www.facebook.com/healthcare.gov for ideas.
- Write an article for your organization newsletter or member bulletin.
- Put up posters around your community that provides information about how, why, and by when to get covered in the marketplace.
- Talk to a young person in your life about the benefits of health insurance. Tell them how 5 in 10 young adults could pay $50 or less per month for coverage, less than most cell phone bills!
- Post on Twitter using the hashtag, #GetCovered and let people know they can access the marketplace (1) online at www.healthcare.gov; (2) by phone at 1-800-318-2596, (3) in person at www.localhelp.healthcare.gov, (4) or by mail at http://1.usa.gov/1bcLknf.
- Host a Shabbat dinner or house party, and talk about why getting covered is important to you.
- Send an email to a local list serve as a friendly reminder that the enrollment deadline is coming up on March 31, about the financial assistance available to many who enroll, and why you care that people on the list have the information they need to access quality, affordable coverage.
- Publish an ad in your local newspaper about key benefits of coverage in the marketplace.
- Plan a text study that explores Jewish perspectives on health care access, caring for our bodies, and caring for our neighbors.
- Reach out to media outlets at local community colleges and universities.
- Drop off palm cards about health coverage at your local synagogue, child care center, gym, or other local business.
- Sign up for NCJW’s distance learning conference call, “When Chicken Soup Isn’t Enough: Helping Our Communities Get Covered,” to learn more about the benefits of marketplace coverage. Go to NCJW’s website for more information.
- Prepare a “Mitzvah Day” for your congregation before March 31. Work with another organization already involved in outreach to uninsured residents in your community to help raise awareness about how coverage works and how to access an affordable, quality plan in the marketplace.
- Write an op-ed encouraging reads to sign up for health insurance. ! Especially if you are a member of the clergy or an organizational leader, your voice inspires others to learn more about health coverage.
- Partner with local college student clubs to set up an information table on campus at venues such as the student center, cafeteria, or near the bookstore.
- Post a widget or badge on your organization or business website.
- Host a viewing party for an educational webinar about the marketplace provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership Center. Webinars are available in English and Spanish. Learn more and see the upcoming schedule at http://www.hhs.gov/partnerships/resources/aca_101-invite.html.
- Posted byon December 6, 2013 at 5:39 PM EST
On Thursday, December 5, the President and Mrs. Obama welcomed members of the American Jewish community to the White House to celebrate Hanukkah. They hosted two receptions in the Grand Foyer of the White House. Guests included leaders from a broad range of national and local Jewish organizations; Supreme Court Justices; Administration officials; Members of Congress; leaders from the religious community, representing an array of denominations and organizations; athletes; actors; academics; musicians; authors; journalists; and other community stakeholders. The U.S. Marine Band, America’s oldest continuously active professional music organization, known as “the President’s own,” performed in the East Room.
At both receptions, the food preparation occurred under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. Watch this remarkable still-camera video that captures the koshering of the White House kitchen.
Afternoon Hanukkah Reception
At the afternoon reception, arriving guests were welcomed into the White House to the sounds of Zemer Chai (“living song”), a choir of 30 singers from the Washington, DC metropolitan area dedicated to sharing the rich and diverse musical heritage of the Jewish people. Founded in 1976, the choir sings the full range of the Jewish repertoire.
The President and Mrs. Obama joined guests for the ceremonial candlelighting program as the eighth day of Hanukkah was drawing to a close. The President made remarks, recognizing the creators of “Thanksgivukkah” and the 10-year-old inventor of the “Menurkey,” created because of the intersection this year of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. He then invited a military chaplain, Rabbi Amanda Lurer to recite an appropriate blessing to remind the gathering and the world of the meaning of this holiday. Rabbi Lurer serves in the U.S. Navy and recently returned from a nine-month deployment in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Following the blessing, Lainey and Kylie Schmitter, ages 8 and 4, respectively, lit the candles with a little help from their mom, Drew Schmitter. A military family, Lainey’s and Kylie’s Dad, Jacob Schmitter, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy currently on his fifth deployment to a forward operating base in Afghanistan.
The Schmitters lit Manfred Anson’s Statue of Liberty Menorah, which pays tribute to the promise of America for Jews who have emigrated here to find new opportunity and, in many cases, rebuild their lives. In 1986, to celebrate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, Anson created the Statue of Liberty Menorah, taking the design of a century-old Polish seven-branched menorah and adapting it for Hanukkah. He used a Statue of Liberty statuette for each branch of the menorah, transforming Lady Liberty’s torch of freedom into the candleholder for each night of Hanukkah and for the service candle. Also, he inscribed important events in Jewish history – from the Exodus from Egypt to the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel –onto the base of each statuette and crowned the menorah with the American bald eagle. The Statue of Liberty Menorah being used this year at the White House was cast from the original mold in 2011 at the request of Dr. Aaron Feingold, who donated it to the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Evening Hanukkah Reception
At the evening Hanukkah Reception, guests were treated to the sounds of Pizmon, the coed Jewish a cappella group of Columbia University, Barnard College, and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Pizmon (Hebrew for the chorus of a song), performing Jewish music as a source of inspiration and community outreach, was founded in 1987 and is the first collegiate Jewish a cappella group.
The President and Mrs. Obama joined guests in the Grand Foyer for remarks and a candlelighting program. On a serious note, President Obama noted the passing, a few hours earlier, of former South African President Nelson Mandela. He spoke of Hanukkah as “a story of miracles, of a light that burned for eight days when it should have only lasted for one and a people who surmounted overwhelming odds to reclaim their historic homeland, so they could live their lives in peace and practice their religion in peace.”
The President then invited Rabbi Joshua Sherwin, a military chaplain who serves as the rabbi at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, to offer an appropriate blessing to remind the gathering and the world of the meaning of this holiday. The candles on a special menorah brought from the Jewish Museum in Prague were lit by two Holocaust survivors from the former Czechoslovakia, Margit Meissner and Martin Weiss, from Bethesda, Maryland. Both are volunteers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
The nineteenth-century brass menorah used at the evening reception – and the fate of the couple who owned it – illuminates the turbulent history of the Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia during the first half of the twentieth century and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. In 1922, Abraham Isaac and Hayyah Ettinger, a husband and wife who lived in the Czech town of Hrušov, donated the 19th century brass menorah to the local prayer hall. They are named in the Hebrew inscription engraved on the menorah’s base:
The menorah was used in the prayer hall until the Nazis burned it down on the night of June 11, 1939, and demolished the rest of the building during the following winter. On November 23, 1939, after the annexation of the Czechoslovak border area (the Sudetenland), the Nazis expelled the Ettingers and their three children and deported them to Poland. The Ettingers were murdered by the Nazis in an unknown place in 1943.
Today, the menorah has been used to celebrate Hanukkah at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Prague, a mansion that was built by a Jewish family in the 1920s and seized by the Nazis and used as a headquarters for their leaders during the German occupation.
- Posted byon December 5, 2013 at 10:45 AM EST
Ed. note: Today at 4:10 ET, tune in to whitehouse.gov/live to see President Obama deliver remarks at a White House Hanukkah Reception
Among the gifts from heads of state that are in the holdings of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is a menorah presented to President Truman by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. The menorah dates back to at least 1767, when it was donated to a synagogue in Buergel, Germany.
The menorah was used in the synagogue until 1913, when it was found broken in pieces. A man by the name of Siegfried Guggenheim asked for the broken pieces and provided a replacement. The Guggenheim family restored the old menorah for their personal use, and brought it to the United States when they immigrated in the 1930s. Eventually, the menorah was acquired by the Jewish Museum in New York.
When Prime Minister Ben-Gurion visited the United States in 1951, he searched for a suitable gift to give to Harry S. Truman in light of the President’s recognition and support of the State of Israel. The Jewish Museum suggested the menorah, and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion presented it to Truman on his birthday, May 8, 1951.
In 1979, Jimmy Carter participated in lighting a Hanukkah menorah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. Each President since then has commemorated Hanukkah at the White House. The ceremonies have ranged from small presentations in the Oval Office to large parties with the First Family, but they have all shared the common element of a Hanukkah menorah.
- Posted byon September 25, 2013 at 4:55 PM EST
Last night, the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden hosted their fall Jewish Community reception at the Vice President’s residence. To mark the occasion, which took place during the seven-day festival of Sukkot, the Vice President and Dr. Biden welcomed their guests with the first-ever Vice Presidential sukkah.
Sukkot is an especially joyous holiday, because it falls right after the days of prayer and introspection that characterize the High Holidays, and it is known as the “season of our rejoicing.” This annual fall harvest festival also commemorates the 40-year journey of the Jewish people from Egypt through the desert to the Land of Israel.
To recall the journey through the wilderness to the Land of Israel, Jews build and decorate a temporary hut at their homes or synagogues, and the Torah commands that they dwell in them for seven days. Jews most commonly observe this command by eating all of their meals in the sukkah. Additionally, in keeping with the joyous and inclusive nature of the holiday, Jews extend hospitality towards others by inviting guests to dine with them in the sukkah.
Before the reception, sukkah builders from American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) came to the Vice President’s official residence to build the sukkah….
After the sukkah was built, a group of Jewish children with disabilities from local area schools, joined by their parents, came to decorate the sukkah. . .
After the sukkah was up, Dr. Biden (and Champ) made a surprise visit to the sukkah….
And the sukkah, which is a symbol of hospitality and inclusion, was ready for the guests. Read more about the Vice Presidential sukkah here.
Matt Nosanchuk is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.