Blog Posts Related to the American Jewish Community

  • Passover Family Recipes in the Spotlight

    During this festival of freedom, Jews gather around the Seder table to engage in one of the oldest traditions in the Jewish faith. One of the highlights of the Passover holiday is, of course, the food. On Passover, food assumes a special role: it not only nourishes; it educates. As families gather around the Seder table, much of the night’s discussion revolves around the Seder plate. The Seder plate, or the ke’ara, holds six traditional items: the marror, lettuce, shank bone, egg, charoset, and the vegetable.  These foods have played a central role in the Passover Seder throughout generations, allowing Jews today to connect with their forbearers from thousands of years ago.

    As President Obama said in his Passover statement this year:

    "Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins. As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continue the hard work of repairing the world. Chag sameach." --President Obama

    As in previous years, we have compiled recipes for Passover from members of the White House staff. These dishes, like the foods displayed on the Seder plate, inspire those who enjoy them to remember their own family histories. Whether eliciting warm memories from childhood or a grandparent’s experience in a foreign land, or serving as an expression of a unique ethnic or cultural background, these foods bring further meaning and power to this special holiday. Chag Sameach.

  • President Obama's Passover Message

    This week, President Obama completed his historic trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. During the trip he reiterated the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel and America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security as well as the importance of security, peace and prosperity for all in the region.

    President Obama also touched upon the upcoming Passover holiday, the powerful symbols that it represents, and the inspiration it provides to him and to all people seeking a more just and peaceful future.

    See a statement from President Obama on Passover.

  • Vice President Biden at AIPAC Policy Conference 2013

    This week, Vice President Biden spoke at the AIPAC Policy Conference here in DC.

    He emphasized the Administration's deep commitment to Israel and its security, noting that no President has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Obama. "He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership," the Vice President said.

    Vice President Biden Meets With Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak

    Vice President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, after the Vice President spoke at the AIPAC conference, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, Mar. 4, 2013 (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Vice President Biden also talked about the peace process:

    "We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve.  Even some of you in the audience said, why do we even talk about it anymore?  Well, it's going to require hard steps on both sides.  But it's in all of our interests -- Israel's interest, the United States' interest, the interest of the Palestinian people.  We all have a profound interest in peace."

    There were some laughs, too. On the subject of President Obama's upcoming trip to the region right before Passover, the Vice President noted: "I have to admit I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say 'this year in Jerusalem,' but I’m the Vice President. I’m not the President. So I -- when I told him that, I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not."

    Read Vice President BIden's full remarks here.

  • Happy Purim!

    The White House Office of Public Engagement sends its best wishes to all those celebrating Purim on Sunday. On this holiday, we read the words of the Megillah, which tells of the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people. We recall the courage of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, whose bold actions reversed an evil plot, transforming a day of impending sorrow into a day of happiness. From these heroic individuals, we learn the qualities of leadership, and what it means to sacrifice for a cause larger than oneself.

    President Obama echoed this very message in his recent remarks at the presentation of the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medals:

    “We’ve all got busy lives. We’ve got bills to pay. We’ve got kids to carpool, errands to get done. And in the midst of all the running around, it would be easy -- and even understandable -- for folks to just focus on themselves, to worry about our own lives, to look down the street and see a neighbor in need and say, ‘I’d like to help but I’ve got problems of my own.’ To look across town at a community that’s in despair and say, ‘That’s just too big a challenge for us to be able to take on.’

    That’s not who we are. That’s not what we do. That’s not what built this country. In this country, we look out for one another. We get each other’s backs, especially in times of hardship or challenge.”

    We continue to hold those same values to look out for our neighbors, and to work together, collectively, for a better future. On Purim, Jewish people reaffirm their commitment to their faith, heritage, and their communities. By rejoicing with family and friends and by sharing with the less fortunate among us, we keep enduring traditions and values alive. Let us reflect on the central lesson of Purim by looking beyond ourselves, so that we too can turn the trials of our communities into sources of light and joy for all. Chag Purim Sameach.

    Zachary Kelly handles Jewish Outreach for the Office of Public Engagement

  • Hanukkah at the White House: A Menorah that Survived Sandy

    President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Rabbi Larry Bazer at the 2012 Hanukkah reception, Dec. 13, 2012

    President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Rabbi Larry Bazer participate in the Menorah lighting during the Hanukkah reception in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Dec. 13, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday welcomed friends and leaders from the Jewish community to celebrate the sixth night of Hanukkah. In his remarks, the President remembered the enduring story of resilience and optimism that is the essence of this holiday:

    Over 2,000 years ago, a tyrant forbade the Israelites from practicing their religion and his forces desecrated the Holy Temple.  So Judah Maccabee gathered a small band of believers to fight this oppression, and against all odds, they prevailed.  And the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem and restored the faith of its people.  And when they went to reclaim the Temple, the people of Jerusalem received another gift from God -- the oil that should have lasted only one night burned for eight.  That miraculous flame brought hope and it sustained the faithful.

    To this day, Jews around the world honor the Maccabees' everlasting hope that light will overcome the darkness, that goodness will overcome evil, and that faith can accomplish miracles.The celebration this year was a tribute to more recent examples of resilience and optimism as well. The 90-year-old menorah used in the ceremony came from the Temple Israel synagogue in Long Beach, New York, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. It served as a symbol of perseverance, and as a reminder of those who are still recovering from Sandy’s destruction. 

    This was not the first year that Rabbi Larry Bazer, the Joint Forces Chaplain for the Massachusetts National Guard, was asked to light the candles at the White House Hanukkah celebration. Last year, Rabbi Bazer was unable to attend because he was four months into his deployment in Afghanistan, and he spent every night of Hanukkah with a different group of soldiers. As President Obama noted, "he had a pretty good excuse" for turning down that invitation.

    Update: Learn more about the 2012 White House Menorah in this video:  


  • United Nations General Assembly Update

    As we head into the most solemn day of the Jewish Calendar, I wanted to call your attention to the President's speech this morning to the United Nations General Assembly. The speech covered several topics, including freedom of speech and human rights.  Of particular note, is the language the President used to again repudiate the idea of a nuclear armed Iran.  An excerpt of that section of the speech is below:

    “America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so.  But that time is not unlimited.  We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.  And make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained.  It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy.  It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty.  That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable.  And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

    To read the President's full remarks, click here.

    Wishing you and your families a meaningful fast. May you all be inscribed in the book of life. L'Shana Tova.

    Jarrod Bernstein is the Director of Jewish Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement

  • Recipe in Spotlight – Sweet Potato Tzimmes

    Editor’s note: This post is part of a series highlighting recipes used by the White House Staff for the Jewish High Holidays.

    Tzimmes was a regular part of holiday meals at my grandmother's table and at my mother's, and I make it every year now.   It has a sweet taste to usher in a sweet new year, and it fills the house with memories of loved ones past as well as present.  I look forward to introducing a new generation to this family tradition when we gather in a few days.  L'shana tova u’metukah -- to a good and sweet new year.

    • 5 medium sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds)
    • Half pound to one pound each of dried apricots and pitted prunes (depending on how sweet you want it)
    • 3 sliced lemons

    1. Peel sweet potatoes and cut in eighths to fill a half warming-tray size pan (10"X12").

    2. Add dried fruit.

    3. Squeeze lemons.

    4. Add juice and rinds with the other ingredients and toss together.

    5. Add about a quarter inch of water.

    6. Cover tightly with tin foil and cook at 350 degrees for about 1-1/2 hours, or until soft.

    7. DO NOT STIR -- when you turn the tzimmes out into a bowl, liquid will glaze the tops.

    Jack Lew is currently serving as President Obama’s Chief of Staff

  • Recipe in Spotlight – Henny’s Dairy Noodle Kugel

    Editor’s note: This post is part of a series highlighting recipes used by the White House Staff for the Jewish High Holidays.

    The original recipe came from a family friend, Henny, and my mom first had it in her home in Brooklyn in the 1960's. It quickly became our family's favorite as well and we have it every Rosh Hashanah!

    • 10 ounces broad egg noodles
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 pound cottage cheese
    • 1 pint sour cream
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • Juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 6 tablespoons butter or margarine
    • 1/2 cup corn flake crumbs

    1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

    2. Cook noodles and drain.

    3. Cream together: eggs, cottage cheese, sugar, sour cream, lemon juice.

    4. Fold mixture into noodles.

    5. Take half of the butter/margarine, put into 9x13 Pyrex baking dish, place in oven until it melts and coats the bottom of the dish.

    6. Add noodle mixture.

    7. Take the rest of the butter/margarine and blend it with the corn flake crumbs; spread this mixture on top of the noodles, patting down gently.

    8. Bake for one hour or until you see that the bottom is golden.

    [Variations for the 21st century: you can substitute low-fat or non-fat sour cream and cottage cheese, and use yolkless noodles.  You can also cut the amount of butter/margarine to 4 tablespoons.]

    David Cohen is an Executive Assistant in the Office of Cabinet Affairs