Passover Stars

Guess Who’s Coming to Seder? Celebrities at Passover Dinner (PHOTOS)

From Jerry Seinfeld to Minka Kelly and the Dalai Lama, see stars having Passover dinner.

The president will hold a Passover dinner at the White House tonight. From Jerry Seinfeld to Joan Rivers to the Dalai Lama, see Jewish stars (and non-Jewish ones) having a matzo ball.

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Barack Obama

Pundits can debate whether Barack Obama is a good friend of Israel, but history will show that in 2009 the president hosted the first official Passover dinner at the White House. How was his seder different from all seders? For one thing, the Secret Service knew the location of the afikomen. And having just returned from a trip to Israel, the president can amend the traditional seder closing Monday night—instead of “next year in Jerusalem,” he can talk about “last week in Jerusalem.”

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Minka Kelly & Mandy Moore

“Most special seder ever with my family @TheMandyMoore @MinkaKelly,” Raina Penchansky, a friend of both actresses, tweeted last year after they all celebrated Passover together. Also raising a glass at the seder table that night was Moore’s husband, musician Ryan Adams. No word on whether he sang “Dayenu.”

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Joan & Melissa Rivers

As you might imagine, Passover at Joan Rivers’s house is a decidedly unorthodox affair. “Let’s just drink the wine instead of dripping it on our plate,” the comedian said at her 2010 Seder. “We’ll drip it in our throat instead.” And her daughter, Melissa, added, “Fun fact: Moses had a lisp, so sometimes we break out with the speech impediment. Don’t be shocked.” And when the evening was all over, Joan had one last treat for her guests. “You get to take the plagues home with you,” she announced. “A gift bag!”

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Ed Koch

The inscription on the headstone for Ed Koch reads, “fiercely proud of his Jewish faith.” And while the former New York City mayor was not a particularly religious man, he did hold a seder in his official residence, Gracie Mansion, in 1978. Rozanne Gold, Koch’s former executive chef, recalled the pressure of cooking the meal. “As I had never fully prepared a seder until then, I called everyone I knew, including my mother, who made very delicious but extremely hard matzo balls,” she wrote earlier this year. “My family loved them, but I doubted the mayor’s family would. What to do? I asked the mayor for his recipe. He suggested putting seltzer in the mixture, telling me that would make them light and fluffy. I immediately called my mother to share the good news.”

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Dalai Lama

He may not be Jewish, but it’s easy to understand why the Dalai Lama would relate to the story of the exodus from Egypt. Exiled from Tibet since 1959, His Holiness attended a seder in Washington, D.C., in 1997 and spoke of the universality of the Passover themes. “In our dialogue with rabbis and Jewish scholars,” the Dalai Lama said, “the Tibetan people have learned about the secrets of Jewish spiritual survival in exile: one secret is the Passover seder.”

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Matisyahu

“My earliest memories of a Passover seder involve my grandfather, who was a tall athletic man, a basketball player,” the musician Matisyahu recalled in an interview several years ago. “We got a great kick out of ‘stealing’ his afikomen. The fact that we were actually able to outsmart him and find the matzo he hid was a real thrill. And, to top it off, he was generous with his prizes!” But Matisyahu, who no longer considers himself Orthodox, also admitted, “Passover is a pretty difficult holiday for me. I mean, beyond the neurosis of having to clean the house like crazy, you then sit at the seder and practically stuff matzo down your throat until the point of explosion. I mean, it’s not particularly easy.”

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Jerry Stiller

For the last decade, comedian Jerry Stiller has been a regular at the Downtown Seder in New York, which features appearances by many actors and musicians. (This year’s lineup included Lou Reed and comic Judy Gold.) And despite having attended Passover dinners with Rodney Dangerfield and Andy Kaufman over the years, there’s one celebrity cameo that stands out for Stiller: “I went to a seder that had Madonna,” he recalled in 2006. “It was huge. Madonna read one of the four questions. She would get into it. Then she talked about Kabala and why she was very involved and influenced by it. She was quite moving that night.”

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Dee Snider and Scott Ian

Songs have always been an integral part of Passover, but thrash metal is not usually on the playlist. Then in 2005, VH1 aired “Matzo and Metal,” a TV special hosted by Anthrax’s Scott Ian (who is Jewish) and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider (who is half Jewish). The show was such a success that Ian returned the next year for an encore: “Matzo and Metal II: Back to the Desert.” In one clip, he and Evan Seinfeld (Biohazard) and Josh Silver (Type O Negative) explain the meaning of the seder plate, but things get shticky when they’re asked what the egg symbolizes. “The egg,” Ian jokes, “is for a little egg salad later.”

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Jerry Seinfeld

One of the highlights of the seder is opening the door for Elijah. In this classic 1992 Saturday Night Live sketch—starring Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, and Phil Hartman—Jerry Seinfeld plays the prophet as though he were an insult comic. (“There’s more salt in this soup than in the Dead Sea! What happened—did Lot’s wife fall in the pot?”) The randy Elijah then pops the Four Questions to a young woman at the table. “No. 1—are you a virgin?” When she answers “yes,” Seinfeld delivers the zinger, “Well then forget the other three questions!”

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Jesus

From the scholars at the Council of Trent to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the events of the Last Supper have long been debated. Among the unanswered questions is whether Jesus’s final meal was a seder. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke appear to confirm that it was. (“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the Passover?”) The discrepancy, however, comes because John’s account claims the supper occurred before the holiday. The bigger mystery, of course, is why everyone was sitting on one side of the table.