WASHINGTON – President Obama broke new ground Thursday by personally hosting a White House Seder dinner for the Jewish holiday of Passover. However, by limiting invitees to an exclusive group of staff and family, he apparently managed to irritate some constituents.

When the White House announced the Seder, some Jewish leaders from the Washington area began calling, wondering where their invitations were, according to White House e-mails accidentally distributed to the news media.

“Apparently Jewish (sic) here and in neighboring states are now calling wondering why they have not been invited,” one staffer wrote, asking to take the event off the public schedule. The White House kept it on the schedule because it had already been announced, but would not say who had sought invitations.

First lady Michelle Obama’s cousin, Rabbi Capers Funnye of Chicago, said that while Seders are traditionally held in the spirit of inclusiveness, it might be a bit much to include all those seeking to celebrate at the White House.

“I would hope that there would be a sense of understanding that … also, Seder is about family,” said Funnye, a convert to Judaism who was not at the White House. “I think you would certainly have to limit it … you want to be inclusive, but you also want to be prudent in being inclusive as well.”

The Seder is a follow-up to a dinner held in Harrisburg, Pa., on the campaign trail last year, where most of this year’s invitees were in attendance. When campaign workers couldn’t get home to celebrate the holiday with their families, they organized an impromptu celebration in the Sheraton Hotel’s basement. Jewish tradition at a Seder is to say “next year, in Jerusalem,” but according to Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, the attendees set their sights instead on the White House.

This year’s dinner had few additions to that original group, with Michelle, Sasha and Malia Obama joining the exclusive invitee list.

Two of the highest profile Jewish members of the administration did not plan on attending: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser David Axelrod. Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers, and family friend Eric Whitaker, were among those invited. Gibbs said about 17 to 20 were expected to attend.

White House aides said that while Seders had been held at the White House before, they believed this was the first such event attended by the president.

The Seder, which Gibbs said was planned both years by Axelrod aide Eric Lesser, served traditional fare including matzo, bitter herbs, a roasted egg and greens in the White House’s old family dining room. The event was lauded by at least one Jewish group, 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,” Alexis Rice, the group’s deputy executive director told The Associated Press. “There is no question, Obama is a true friend of the Jewish community.”


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