WASHINGTON — What made Friday night different from all the other nights at Vice President Kamala Harris’ home?
The answer to that question “my nishtana” asked as we Jews observe Easter this week: This was the first time a Passover seder was held at the Vice Presidential Residence of the Naval Observatory. And it happened because Harris is married to Doug Emhoff, who is the first Jew to be the wife of a president or vice president.
According to a White House official, the menu for the Passover meal consisted of matzoh dumpling soup; fried fish with horseradish; Salmon; salad; brisket; marsala chicken; carrot tzimmes and potato kugel.
When I was reporting on Obama-era seders, I found great interest from readers about what the Haggadah was used for after, in 2009, I broke the news that it was the Maxwell House Haggadah. It was originally released in 1932 as a promotion for the coffee maker. Maxwell House coffee is now a brand of Chicago-based Kraft Heinz.
Because of its simplicity — and it was free at the supermarket — the Maxwell Haggadah House prized for people who wanted a basic no-frills seder.
A Haggadah is a book describing the order of the elements of the seder. Haggadahs can be long or short, traditional or modern, topical or not, have a lot or a little Hebrew. I know many people who create their own Haggadah – with the same essential part: telling the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
When the 18 guests gathered at the home of the vice president and second gentleman on Friday, a White House official told me they used the Maxwell House Haggadah to tell the story of Jews fleeing Egypt to escape to slavery.
“Everyone participated and read the Haggadah,” the official said.
The Harris/Emhoff seder “was very much like any other seder: sang “Dayenu”, did the four questions, hid the Afikomen (it was found), ate (it)”Hillel Sandwich”, discussed the meaning of Passover – and how it relates to today’s world.
Harris and Emhoff lit a menorah at their residence during Hanukkah and last October they tied a mezuzah on their front door.
The origin story of my reporting on this subject is as follows: Obama’s Passover Seder tradition began during the 2008 presidential campaign by a group of staffers who met in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania , for the Pennsylvania primaries a few days before the first seder.
Campaign staffers — including Eric Lesser, now a Massachusetts state senator — and Herbie Ziskend, now Harris’ senior communications adviser — invited the then senator. Barack Obama at the seder. They used the Maxwell House Haggadah because that’s what they could get on short notice.