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Posted by on Apr 10, 2009 in Politics, Religion | 3 comments

Obama seder good to the last drop: uses Maxwell House Haggadah

The White House blog posted this photo* of last night’s seder:


The president and his guests are using the Maxwell House Coffee Haggadah (which is the one we used at our cantor’s home on the first night). I recognized the outside decorations immediately, double-checked them here and then zoomed in on the official photo.

Here’s a close-up of the haggadah in President Obama’s hands and the one being held by the guest to Obama’s right:


You can see “Maxwell House” in white print on top of a blue box background. This haggadah is very traditional and continues to be used my millions of Jews in the United States. The Jewish Press says,

Maxwell House coffee has been recognized as a friend of the Jewish community since 1923, the year the well-known brand became certified as Kosher for Passover – the first coffee to seek this important designation. Then, about a decade later, working with Joseph Jacobs Advertising and an Orthodox rabbi to ensure accuracy, Maxwell House printed their first haggadah.

More than 70 years later, Maxwell House is still partnering with Joseph Jacobs to deliver the longest running sales promotion in advertising history. To this day, over 50 million haggadahs have been printed, making it the most widely used haggadah in the world.

I’d guess that the publisher (General Foods) would have a nice boost in production next year, but Amazon indicates they’re unavailable (you can buy them still at eBay – see how the image is the same as the one in the Obama seder photo?)

If you’re interested in the whole megillah of haggadah traditions, this historical review starts at 170 C.E. and includes a very lengthy commentary on the Maxwell House, well worth reading but too long to include here. Suffice to say, they knew what they were doing in creating and tapping a market.   Moment magazine also ran a very endearing review of the Maxwell House in its most recent issue.You can read another interesting historical review of the Maxwell House Haggadah here and Mark Oppenheimer, at (and with whom I’m familiar because of his run at my hometown’s alt weekly, The New Haven Advocate) does a nice review of the myriad styles of haggadot now available also, and concludes that the Maxwell House is his favorite:

The Haggadah I like best is the old Maxwell House Haggadah, filled with the “little kitschy scribbles” others find objectionable. According to Maxwell House, nearly 40 million of these handy little booklets have been distributed since 1934, when the coffee company first hit on an ingenious way to win Jewish customers’ loyalty. The 2007 edition is, like all its antecedents, apolitical and middlebrow, geared for mass appeal. But it’s clear and concise, and, most important, my parents and my in-laws all grew up on it. What it lacks in poetry, it makes up in ubiquity. It’s the Haggadah most evocative for my extended family, and there’s majesty in that simple claim, a claim that no better, smarter, more beautiful edition could ever make.

The photo at the White House appears to have been taken before any of the meal had been served, and it is awfully light…I wonder if they waited until the right time to have the meal, it’s a little hard to tell. From the Hebrew on Obama’s page, they’re just a short while from the meal. The Hebrew letters read, “Pesach, Matzah and Maror” – these are the three things you must have to have a sedar.

I gotta say – it all looks pretty kosher to me, as seders go. Like I mentioned in other posts this year about the holiday, last night, our seder began with a play performed by about 10 children, all 12 and under, followed by a seder service full of kid-friendly singing an mayhem. Jeans, cotton balls for hail and marinated salami for appetizer. Not quite the Obama Seder, but suited us well.

*Hattip to this post by Lynn Sweet, in which she identifies all the attendees:

Who’s who: From the President’s left is Samantha Tubman (she came to the original one in Harrisburg and now works for Social Secretary Desiree Rogers)…. Next to Tubman is Melissa Winter (deputy chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama) then First daughters Sasha, and Malia, then the First Lady.

Next to the First Lady is deputy White House counsel Susan Sher, and next to Susan Sher (out of view) are her sons Evan Moore and Michael Cohen, top White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and Obama pal and University of Chicago Medical Center honcho Eric Whitaker (who you can’t see).

On the other side of the table, to the President’s immediate right, is Susan Sher’s husband Neil Cohen. Next to him is Laura Moser (Arun Chaudhary wife), then White House videographer Arun Chaudhary, Vice President Biden aide Herbie Ziskend (Chaudhary and Ziskend were at Harrisburg) Eric Lesser, Lesser’s father, Martin Lesser, Deputy Director of Advance Lisa Kohnke, Mrs. Obama’s personal aide, Dana Lewis, and Obama personal assistant Reggie Love.