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Obama invites friends, aides to Passover seder

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is inviting closefriends and staff to a private White House meal Thursday to mark

Passover, a signal that the new president intends to fulfill hispromise that Jewish voters would have an ally.

Among the invited is Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's closestadvisers, and family friend Eric Whitaker, who is visiting fromChicago and attended a seder last year with the campaign. MichelleObama and the family's two daughters also plan to attend.

The staff guest list includes aides from the campaign trail whomarked last year's Passover at the Sheraton hotel in Harrisburg,Pa. Obama's personal aide, Reggie Love, Michelle Obama's deputychief of staff, Melissa Winter, personal aide Dana Lewis andassociate social secretary Samantha Tubman all receivedinvitations.

Also on the guest list are Eric Lesser, a personal aide tosenior adviser David Axelrod, and his family. Lesser worked duringthe New Hampshire primary and later handled baggage for travelingreporters. White House videographer Arun Chaundhary -- a constantpresence on the trail -- landed invitations for his family.

Others in the exclusive group include Michelle Obama's counseland friend Susan Sher; Herbie Ziskend, a staff assistant to VicePresident Joe Biden's policy and economic advisers; and White Housedeputy director of advance and special events Lisa Kohnke.

Two of the administration's highest-profile members of theJewish faith plan to miss the dinner. Obama chief of staff RahmEmanuel doesn't plan to attend and Axelrod expects to be in Chicagowith his family.

The White House says the seder meal will be traditional,including matzo, bitter herbs, a roasted egg and greens in thefamily dining room in the executive mansion. The evening willfeature the reading of the Haggadah, the religious text of theholiday.

Passover began at sundown Wednesday. It celebrates the Jewishexodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery.

White House aides say they believe this is the firstpresident-hosted seder at the White House. President Bill Clinton'saides planned seders, but Clinton isn't known to have attended.

Obama's move won quick praise from the National JewishDemocratic Council.

"By hosting the first presidential seder in America's history,President Barack Obama shows the personal and deep relationship hehas with the Jewish community," said Alexis C. Rice, the group'sdeputy executive director. "There is no question, Obama is a truefriend of the Jewish community."

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