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'Our Haggadah': A Guide For Interfaith Families

Apr 11, 2011 (Talk of the Nation)

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Cokie Roberts (far left) and Steve Roberts with Cokie's mother, Lindy Boggs, and children Lee and Rebecca. Cokie, who was raised in what she describes as a "very Catholic" family, hosted her first Passover Seder in 1969. When Cokie and Steve Roberts married in 1966, they knew they wanted to meld their Jewish and Catholic traditions. "There are many things that make you feel more together than apart," Cokie says.

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When Cokie and Steve Roberts married in 1966, they faced a choice familiar to many mixed-faith couples: practice no religion, pick one or the other, or find ways to observe both. They decided upon the latter. In Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families, the couple describes their approach to celebrating Passover with family and friends of all faiths.

For couples bridging Judaism and other faiths, Passover "is a gateway" holiday, says ABC political analyst Steve Roberts: "You can do it at home, and also you do it in your own way."

That's not to say that developing a Seder — the ritual Passover meal — to fit their unique family was simple. NPR senior news analyst Cokie Roberts was from a "very Catholic" family, she tells NPR's Neal Conan; her mother, Lindy Boggs, was appointed the United States' ambassador to the Vatican after serving in the U.S. Congress as a Representative from Louisiana. "You don't get a whole lot more Catholic than that," Cokie says.

And when it came to developing a new Roberts Passover tradition, Steve had little experience of his own to bring to the effort. His family, while "tribally and culturally Jewish," was not very religiously observant. "The whole notion of us actually celebrating the Seder was sort of strange to [my mother]," he says. "She often said ... the first Seder she ever went to was organized by her Catholic daughter-in-law."

But while the new couple knew they wanted to meld their religious traditions at home, figuring out exactly how to do that was another matter. Hosting her first Passover Seder in 1969 was an intimidating experience, Cokie says. "It's hard enough just to have a dinner party, much less to have one where you have strange foods and the table looks different from any other night."

Cokie had brought a Haggadah — the Jewish text that guides the Seder — from a local synagogue to direct the evening's rituals, but quickly found there were many critics in the room. "I had a lot of friends who felt free to comment," she says. " 'Oh, you left out this part' ... 'Wait a minute, you shouldn't have put that part in,' and all that." The next year, she decided it was time to create a uniquely Roberts Haggadah.

"I gathered up a bunch of Haggadahs, including the Maxwell House classic, and sat down at my Smith Corona manual typewriter ... and typed up our Haggadah. And this book is basically that service," she says.

The Roberts' have tweaked their book over the years, with input from family and friends of many different faiths. But even with those multicultural, personal touches, Cokie says, "it's not at all hippie-dippy by any means. It does have four children, instead of four sons," she says, referring to a traditional story told at the Seder table about four sons who inquire about the meaning of Passover: one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple and one who does not know how to ask. ("And I was kind and didn't make both the wicked one and the simple one boys," she adds.)

The Roberts are also quick to note that their Haggadah, while a "mishmash," is "not Chrisitianized in any way. ... This is very much a Jewish ceremony that we celebrate." Even so, Christians will find plenty to relate to in Our Haggadah, Steve says. "It's a Jewish holiday, but it's a universal message."

"The Last Supper that is so celebrated in art was a Seder," Cokie says. "The meaning of ... going from slavery to freedom, from death to life are the same. ... There are many things that make you feel more together than apart."

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Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families
By Cokie and Steve Roberts
Hardcover, 192 pages
Harper Collins
List price: $19.99
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