April 15, 2016
The Obama White House has held its second (and last) Now Ruz celebration, though it was 17 days late, only coming off on April 6.
Dozens of Iranian-Americans—not all of them prominent figures—were invited for the meal, entertainment by comedian Maz Jobrani and the Nomad Dancers.
They dined in the East Room of the White House, which was adorned with a Haft Seen table prepared by Iranian-Americans on the White House staff.
First Lady Michelle Obama came downstairs from the family quarters in the middle of the meal to great the noisy guests, who were having a lively time. “I can hear you upstairs,” she told the crowd.
She thanked the White House staffers who organized the event, including Ferial Gova-shiri, who is the personal secretary to the President. “Ferial, where are you?” Mrs. Obama called out. “Where are you? Where is she?” Then Mrs. Obama surmised what had happened to keep Ferial away. “My husband is making her work. You can blame him.”
Mrs. Obama also singled out the brand new White House florist, Iranian-American Hedieh Ghaffarian. “She has been phenomenal,” the First Lady said. “We have gotten so many compliments on the floral arrangements here at the White House, and she has a wonderful spirit, and we’re just so happy to have her on our staff.”
Then she addressed the guests. “This is your house. This is the People’s House. Yes! So enjoy. As Barack said, just don’t break anything.” The last known instance of a guest breaking anything major was two decades ago when President Bill Clinton had the American Olympic medal winners from 1996 in for a reception. The rather beefy Iranian-American wrestler, Siamak “Matt” Ghaffari, sat down on an historic White House chair and it crumpled under his weight.
Mrs. Obama told the guests, “We think America is strongest when we recognize our many traditions, when we celebrate our diversity, and when we lift each other up. And in times like these, that’s more important than ever before, right now and today with what’s going on. Right now, when we’re hearing so much disturbing and hateful rhetoric, it is so important to remember that our diversity has been -– and will always be -– our greatest source of strength and pride here in the United States.”
She noted that the White House celebrates other holidays—St. Patrick’s Day (Irish), Diwali (Indian) and Cinco de Mayo (Mexican). “And with your help, today, we’re celebrating Now Ruz, which is one of our newest White House traditions,” Mrs. Obama said.
She turned and pointed out “this beautiful White House Haft Seen that’s behind me. I’d like to say I had something to do with it, but I know Hedieh did everything.
“Just like the ones you create in your home, it is filled to the brim with our Seven S’s of wishes for the year ahead–-from grass sprouts representing the blooming of nature, to apples for health and beauty—which I believe in, deeply—and many other symbols of love and joy.
“And because no Now Ruz celebration would be complete without plenty of food to share with family and friends, I hope that you all have enjoyed all the traditional dishes I haven’t had a chance to taste yet—some of which feature the ingredients from our very own White House Kitchen Garden,” a personal project of the First Lady.
“I want us to take a moment to thank our fabulous guest chef Najmieh Batmanglij. I got to meet Najmieh and her family back in the back, and she told me to make sure I tried the soup because it brings good luck. So I’m going to do that.”