The "first" first family is proving themselves worthy of the title, indeed. In addition to seeding the first ever White House vegetable and herb garden (I'll have more on today's planting festivities, which are set to kick off momentarily) the AP reports that the Obamas are hosting a Seder tonight to celebrate the first night of Passover. For those not up on their Old Testament, the Jewish holiday remembers the sparing of Hebrew lives during slavery in ancient Egypt. On the eve of Easter, the Obamas nod to interfaith communion—one of the four priorities of the president's new Faith Office—will be the first of its kind for a sitting president of the United States.
The traditional Seder meal and prayer service, to be held in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, will be missing some of the most prominent Jewish members of the administration, but will nonetheless remain a multicultural affair. Both Obama children, as well as senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and high-ranking heirs Samantha Tubman and Reggie Love will attend.
So is this extended family dinner—like last week's making nice with the Muslim world—a symbolic attempt to reach out to those of Jewish faith in America and abroad?
Perhaps. But really, this move seems perfectly natural. It isn't, after all, the Obamas first Seder; Team Barack is merely reprising a tradition born on the campaign trail, in the tough days before the Pennsylvania primary. And, despite tensions surrounding Israeli excesses in Gaza, blacks and Jews have traditionally been fast friends—particularly during the Civil Rights era. It's also worth recalling that the Obamas home in Chicago's Hyde Park lies directly across the street from one of the more liberal reform Judaism synagogues in the city—the more so because it sits at the center of the South Side melting pot of mixed-income black white and international residents.
For more on blacks and Jews, see Zev Chafets' fine profile of Rabbi Capers Funnye—Michelle Obama's cousin once removed, and one of the very few black Jewish rabbis in New York City. Tonight, he'll likely be ministering to a Seder of his own, but this key passage gives a sense of his unique faith:
'When I joined Rabbi Devine's shul, I felt less like I was converting to Judaism than reverting,' Funnye recalls. 'Going back to something.'
UPDATE: Lynn Sweet at the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES has the whole Seder guest list.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.