President Barack Obama is inviting close friends and staff to a private White House meal Thursday to mark Passover, a signal that the new president intends to fulfill his promise that Jewish voters would have an ally.
Among the invited is Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's closest advisers, and family friend Eric Whitaker, who is visiting from Chicago and attended a Seder last year with the campaign. Michelle Obama and the family's two daughters also plan to attend.
The staff guest list includes aides from the campaign trail who marked last year's Passover at the Sheraton hotel in Harrisburg, Pa. Obama's personal aide, Reggie Love, Michelle Obama's deputy chief of staff, Melissa Winter, personal aide Dana Lewis and associate social secretary Samantha Tubman all received invitations.
Also on the guest list are Eric Lesser, a personal aide to senior adviser David Axelrod, and his family. Lesser worked during the New Hampshire primary and later handled baggage for traveling reporters. White House videographer Arun Chaundhary — a constant presence on the trail — landed invitations for his family.
Quick praise from Jewish group
Others in the exclusive group include Michelle Obama's counsel and friend Susan Sher; Herbie Ziskend, a staff assistant to Vice President Joe Biden's policy and economic advisers; and White House deputy director of advance and special events Lisa Kohnke.
Two of the administration's highest-profile members of the Jewish faith plan to miss the dinner. Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel doesn't plan to attend and Axelrod expects to be in Chicago with his family.
The White House says the Seder meal will be traditional, including matzo, bitter herbs, a roasted egg and greens in the family dining room in the executive mansion. The evening will feature the reading of the Haggadah, the religious text of the holiday.
Passover began at sundown Wednesday. It celebrates the Jewish exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery.
White House aides say they believe this is the first president-hosted Seder at the White House. President Bill Clinton's aides planned Seders, but Clinton isn't known to have attended.
Obama's move won quick praise from the National Jewish Democratic Council.
"By hosting the first presidential Seder in America's history, President Barack Obama shows the personal and deep relationship he has with the Jewish community," said Alexis C. Rice, the group's deputy executive director. "There is no question, Obama is a true friend of the Jewish community."