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Crossing Over

Journalists Steve and Cokie Roberts, a non-observing Jew and a Catholic, have hosted Passover Seders together for four decades. They share the rituals from their interfaith observance in a new haggadah.

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Cokie and Steve Roberts at their 1966 wedding in Bethesda, Maryland.(Courtesy Steve and Cokie Roberts)

It can take someone outside your own background to make you realize how much your tradition has to offer. Such was the case for veteran journalist Steve Roberts. Now a professor, Roberts grew up Jewish but non-religious in Bayonne, New Jersey. It was only after he married his Catholic wife, Cokie Roberts, in 1966, that his family held their first seder, at her insistence. Steve and Cokie, a longtime National Public Radio correspondent, have been hosting Seders together since, and the haggadah they use is one they’ve compiled over more than four decades. It forms the basis of Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families, which combines traditional Seder elements with references to contemporary history and the traditions of other faiths—most notably Christianity. Steve and Cokie Roberts spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about their first Seder, why Passover is particularly well-suited to interfaith families, and their inclusive approach to celebrating it, which includes Christian references, Hebrew readings, and legumes. [Running time: 22:16.] 

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Cokey Roberts' Rosary says:

While working in Guatemala, Sister Dianna Ortiz, a Catholic nun from New Mexico, was raped and tortured by members of a death squad until a US supervisor recognized that she was from the US.[14] Although there was no doubt of Ortiz’s torture and ample evidence to corroborate her claims of an American supervisor, [Cokey]Roberts insisted that Ortiz was lying in a 1996 interview with Ortiz on the TV show “Nightline.” Roberts’ brother, Tom Boggs, working for the law firm of “Patton, Boggs, & Blow,” was paid by the Guatemalan military to promote a more positive image of the death squads and the military dictatorship in Guatemala.[15]

Bill Pearlman says:

Big deal. To some of us passover means something. I’m tired of the Roberts, and the Obama seder, and everything in between. He married a catholic. Fine, God bless. But go with easter and don’t insult the rest of us.

Bill,

You do your point no favors by mixing a valid concern about incorporating Christianity into a seder with your unrelated apparent dislike of the President. I for one would prefer the White House avoid seders and Christmas trees and Easter egg rolls, but aside from that I don’t understand what is negative about the President of the United States bringing a Jewish holiday event into the White House.

I like having a President who actually and publicly has Jewish friends.

MonkFish says:

I’m all for mixed marriages and including non-Jews in Passover celebrations but this is nothing other than a naked adept by an adherent of Catholicism to co-opt and interpolate a venerable Jewish tradition. How does reading elements of Christian theology (viz. the Eucharist – which by the way, is a theological interpretation of the last supper which has NOTHING to do with the Seder as practised by Jews over the centuries) into a religion with which they are utterly incompatible (transubstantiation is completely alien to Jewish belief, in either ancient or Rabbinic Judaism) advance inter-religious dialogue? Is there really that great a difference between this and the project to built a convent at Auschwitz? This reprehensible and contemptible mish-mash is nothing more an exercise of power (Cokie’s) designed to shatter the bonds between Jews. Why people would wish to insinuate their way into a self-contained tradition in order that it may be destroyed from inside is beyond me. Perhaps this is the latest incarnation of the Catholic mission to Jews – who, as all good Catholics know, cleave to false religion characterised by “exclusivity” and the bizarre lack of a need to force their creed down the throats of every other human being. Only if Cokie approved of an “atheist” take on Easter in which a fully human Jesus never comes back from the dead could her intentions be regarded as pure.

Oh and according to Cokie’s definition of Christianity neither Justin Martyr, Augustine or Luther would could as Christians.

Unlike some others here I thought the interview was quite nice. Cokie and Steve Roberts demonstrated a sincere desire to make the seder meaningful for themselves and everyone at their table. I was especially impressed with Cokie’s devotion to a tradition not her own – I would be delighted to have her at my seder.

Chana Batya says:

I haven’t listened to the interview (22 minutes? Are you kidding?) but I too dislike reinventing our traditions, customs and laws for non-Jews. Oh, yes, I am intermarried, my husband is Catholic and our Seder is 100% Jewish except for some of our guests. We might mention how our rituals have found their way into Christian practice, but the Seder, the Exodus, that is our Jewish story. We do use it as a teaching point because “we should all believe that we were personally liberated from Egypt, and had our ancestors not left, we, our children and our children’s children might still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” And of course, we emphasize our special responsibility as liberated slaves to liberate all those who are not free in today’s world. I do profess that universalist belief. But I am exhausted by well-meaning Christians who use Judaism to create a syncretistic religion that is no longer Jewish. I would not want to attend the Roberts family “seder” because it’s not a Seder. It’s something new and certainly meaningful to them, but it’s not a Seder.

Sara Ivry says:

Having read the Roberts’ Haggadah and having interviewed them I can assure those of you concerned that they are trying to “co-opt” the Passover Seder that that is not at all their objective. Rather, their aim is to have a meaningful intellectual and spiritual experience that reflects on liberation, religion, and history—which is the same objective many people (I include myself here) have in taking part in a Seder. The concerns that there are more nefarious motives at work would be ludicrous if they were not simply hostile and insulting. And, as the host of Vox Tablet, it particularly upsets me when people comment on the content of podcasts without listening to them. Before judging the material or the guests on our podcast, why not listen with an open mind? I think you will be happily surprised by what you encounter.

But will their children have a Seder and know how to lead it?

Julie says:

MH,

The Roberts have been hosting and leading a seder for 40-plus years now – that is to say, for as long as they’ve been parents. So yes, my guess is that their children will know as well as yours or mine how to carry on the tradition.

-Julie

Miri says:

Probably not Julie. According to another website both of their children are practicing Chrisitans as are tbeir spouses and children. This is to be expected when studies show that 90% of the grandchildren of intermarried couples have no ties to Judaism. Intermarriage is bad for the Jews and no amount of sugarcoating by Cokie and Steve will change that fact.

Their “Haggadah” is drivel. The story of Pesach is recounted for many reasons including: to recall the seminal event in which the Jewish nation was formed, to recount the story the (Jewish) participants should feel as though they (personally) were liberated from slavery, and by recounting the story we reaffirm our collective Jewish identity from one generation to the next. What the Roberts have created is comparable to the relationship between vegan cheesecake and the real thing. Other then a common name, it lacks any comparison in substance.

justicegirl says:

I too, like Ms. Ivry, am taken aback by the hostility of some of the posters here. Especially, commenting when one hasn’t even listened to the podcast. These people have a right to do and believe whatever they choose without being judged; who are they harming? Apparently the Jewish half of this couple has no problem that his children and grandchildren are no longer Jews, if it’s true what a poster above states. I think that is the sad part.

Ramesh says:

Ah well!!!! Who cares….there are more serious world issues to address!!!

perot says:

I have the perfect solution. Don’t marry a shiksa.
Your kids will be “bred of affliction.”

Robert F. Marcus says:

Whatever messages of hope, resiliency and social justice can be distilled from any traditions enjoyed in song, food, and animated discussion amongst extended family, friends, colleagues and “strangers” is , as poets observed of the Creation: Tov M’Od! Very Good!

I have one SIMPLE wish; that Hagaddaot would cease and desist from referring to EGYPT, and use only the biblical MITZRAIM! The Hebrew connotes hardship and oppression,not a geo-political entity! Let’s not prolong any unnecessary confusion. SCHNORTZ KNOWS, we’ve got enough already!

I am about to order the book and may use it in our Seder. Our grandchildren are mixed to some extent. We “sit” on the liberal side of Conservative Judaism, believe that the Torah was compose by the Priesthood of The Temple, as a “union contract” to benefit the priesthood, not the Jewish public. This Saturday’s ‘Parsheh” about “clean” and “unclean” is typical of priestly nonsense. Not my concept of what GOD cares about and does.

Yes, we know you believe Jesus was not the Messiah and never came back from the dead, and Moses never parted the Red Sea.

Yes, Jesus never came back from the dead, and your Moses never parted the Red Sea. This is why inter-faith marriages are so tough!! Thanks, but no thanks, I would never convert and leave the beautiful faith of Christianity.. I guess Jesus didn’t have a chance in his day to ever survive..

JCarpenter says:

From the tone many of the usual negative comments on topics of faith and practice, the “true-Jew” camp seems to claim sole possession of chosen-ness; I’d think such a defensive position and would welcome all the friends it could get.

Another proof, if needed, that US Judaism is doomed. To the few sain Jews left over there – just make aliyah and save yourselves.

I disagree that US Judaism is doomed, Benj, but I think we need to be more inclusive. I’ve been a great admirer of Steve and Cokie Roberts for a long time, and I enjoyed this interview. I’m an American Jew, and I often have mostly non-Jews at my pretty traditional Passover seders. Why make it only about Jews, since the concepts of slavery and freedom are so universal? Some of my most enjoyable seders have been mixed Baha’i and Christian. Let everyone participate, and don’t dumb it down.

Chana Batya says:

@Judy, your last sentence says it best: YES, let’s include everyone, but NO, let’s not dumb it down. Prayers/readings in Hebrew? You betcha! It’s a universal story, and YES, we are supposed to take from it our obligation not to enslave others (which is my favorite part, actually) but in my opinion, the discussion can lead to these conclusions, but the text is the text. for me. I know there are others who prefer abridged and altered versions of the haggadah, and that’s your right, but for me, I want my Jewish story told as a Jewish story.

shushan says:

example of how a jew leaves Judaism quietly. Its more palatable for the establishment to see jews like roberts leave Judaism quietlt than have them leave thru torquemada or hitler…but the results are the same

Relish says:

I agree with what Shushan said. I get so infuriated with all this kumbaya-ing as Jews voluntarily shrug off their Judaism, water it down, and leave it behind. Whether we go quietly or get annihilated, the results are the same!

I am all for interfaith dialog – and certainly interfaith marriages should draw on and celebrate the best of each tradition. But I do have trouble with Christians who are not at all involved with either the Jewish faith or Jewish tradition and know nothing of the spiritual significance or history of Pesach conducting seders in their churches.
What would be different if the Jewish temple conducted a mass or communion service? Absurd.
Two different traditions – two different ways of honoring and worshiping God . Symbolic for each in their own way.

Steve and Cokie-

Haven’t seen you in ages but mazel tov and congrats on the book. Fun interview too! I will send this to all my Catholic family members!

Best wishes,

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Sara Ivry says:

@AnnThorington

Nobody here is conducting Seders in churches–you have misunderstood. This Seder is, like most, conducted in the home.

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Crossing Over

Journalists Steve and Cokie Roberts, a non-observing Jew and a Catholic, have hosted Passover Seders together for four decades. They share the rituals from their interfaith observance in a new haggadah.

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