Next year in the White House?

On Friday 6th April, President Obama will be hosting the 4th annual Pesach seder at the White House. At this event the first family and around 15 other guests will sit down and read the story of Pesach, eating chicken soup with matzah balls, braised beef brisket, potato kugel and matzah chocolate cake.

The ultimate story of struggle and survival, could Pesach have come at a more appropriate time? Times today are tough. With the world going through what could almost be termed a second wave of the GFC, many people face high interest rates, job losses and rising costs. Not a day passes without a news story about the closing of a well-known business, the financial struggles of an iconic franchise or an industry down turn. Everyone is battling to survive.

With the fundamental message of Pesach being one of giving thanks for our freedom, there is little wonder that a non-Jewish world leader such as President Obama has embraced the holiday, using it as a platform from which to remind the world to give thanks for what they have and to spare a thought and “work for those in the world still suffering from poverty, injustice, and hunger.”

Within our own community, there are people doing it tougher than many of us could even imagine. The 2006 census showed that some of Sydney’s Jews not only fail to share in the high living standard enjoyed by the majority but also are living in circumstances that can only be described as destitute. One in eight Jewish households in Sydney earn less than $500 per week. Furthermore, at least 12% of our elderly live in poverty.

The JCA is about to enter our 2012 fundraising campaign. Through our efforts and those of our 21 member organisations, we hope to do more this year than just spare a thought for those still suffering. We operate with the intent of providing the necessary services and therefore the hope that makes the difference in these people’s lives.

As you sit at your Seder table on Friday and Saturday night asking the four questions, ask yourself and those around you some other important questions: Do we know what goes on in our own community? What structures exist to help support those in need? How can we contribute so that others may also give thanks?

The public adoption of one of Judaism’s most poignant festivals by the world’s most prominent family makes me think Pesach might just be the new Thanksgiving? At the end of the seder I wonder what the President will give thanks for this year? With his uncertain political future, will he ask as he did once before, “next year in the White House”?

Ian Sandler is the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Communal Appeal