Passover offers an opportunity to highlight one of those “only in Washington” phenomena: Dorothy and Arthur Goldberg’s Seders. For years, the Goldbergs hosted an annual Passover Seder with members of Washington’s political and intellectual elite as guests. The Seders have been immortalized via guest lists, menus and even the family’s haggadah in the Arthur J. Goldberg Papers in the Library of Congress.
Arthur Goldberg (1908–1990) came to Washington from Chicago in the 1950s. A labor lawyer, he was the general counsel for both the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the United Steelworkers of America, which merged to form the AFL-CIO in 1955. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him Secretary of Labor. The following year, Kennedy appointed Goldberg to the Supreme Court, and in 1965 he was appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations by President Lyndon Johnson.
The Goldbergs’ DC Seders
In 1961, just two months after Arthur Goldberg’s Secretary of Labor appointment, the Goldbergs hosted a Seder attended by national and international leaders. According to a draft guest list in the Goldberg Papers, invitees included President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice William Brennan, Senator Everett Dirksen, Senator Paul Douglas, AFL-CIO President George Meany, Israeli Labor Attaché Nathan Bar-Yaacov, family and friends. The President and First Lady did not attend the Seder, but JHSGW president Sam Brylawski, who was eight years old at the time and whose family was neighbors of the Goldbergs, filled one of the Kennedy’s places at the Seder table.
The evening’s menu included beef bourguignon, potato kugel, whole hot peaches, prunes and apricots. According to a draft menu, well-known DC Jewish restaurateur Duke Zeibert made matzah ball soup based on a “yeshiva chef’s recipe” published in the New York Times.
Throughout the decade, the Goldbergs’ Seders were lively occasions attended by a list of local celebrities. As a law clerk for Justice Goldberg, legal scholar Alan Dershowitz attended. In his memoir Chutzpah, he recalled, “George Meany would sing Irish ballads; Hubert Humphrey would tell stories; and Dorothy Goldberg would sing Yiddish labor union songs.”
The Family’s Haggadah
Like many families, the Goldbergs’ Seder centered on their family haggadah, which was compiled and adapted from various published versions. In The Goldberg Haggadah, as they titled it, the story of the Israelites is a symbol for contemporary struggles like civil rights. Displayed here is a page from the family’s haggadah with the hosts’ initials next to assigned readings. In the margin is a note from Dorothy Goldberg reminding her to mention the description of the Exodus in the African-American spiritual “Go down Moses.”
The Goldberg haggadah is explicitly American in tone, stating, “Pesach calls us to the eternal pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the introduction to her own published haggadah, Cokie Roberts, journalist and daughter of Congressional representatives Lindy and Hale Boggs, remembers participating in the Goldbergs’ 1967 Seder “with gusto” when “the crowd started singing freedom songs from the civil rights and labor movements, held over from the days when Goldberg had been a leading labor lawyer.”
Brylawski, who went on to work at the Library of Congress, adapted parts of the haggadah for his own family’s Seders: “We used it several years. It’s wonderful, tying Moses to the contemporary labor movement.”
Creating a Home with the Seder
Georgetown Law Center professor and another former Goldberg clerk Peter Edelman, well known for his legal career and public service, also attended the Goldberg Seders. In a lecture on Goldberg’s legal achievements, Edelman reminisced, “You went to Passover Seder—it didn’t matter whether you were Jewish or not; you came to Passover Seder at his house. The crowd just got bigger and bigger. That’s probably why he had to leave Chicago—because he needed to start a new crowd in Washington.”
And that he did, both in future Seders at home and for the wider Jewish community. In 1964, Goldberg participated in a model Seder at Washington Hebrew Congregation to show Jewish students how Seders should be conducted. After leaving Washington for New York, he continued to host an annual Seder at his home in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. But when he returned to Washington in 1971, the tradition returned to its birthplace, too.
This is the kind of story that you will encounter in the Society’s future museum showcasing the Washington region’s Jewish life and heritage.
Top photo: Justice Arthur Goldberg (left), Albert Small and Lillian Small, at the rededication of the Historic 1876 Adas Israel Synagogue (1975). JHSGW Collections.