Cokie Roberts Shares Personal Traditions From Her Interfaith Marriage


Still, I understood that this central ceremony in the Jewish religion was one we needed to celebrate in our home. The next year, when I was pregnant with our first child, I felt even more strongly that Passover needed to be part of our fledgling adult life, but I didn't feel at all capable of doing it on my own. So I asked Steve's parents if they would host a Seder for us. They gamely said yes, though they had never held one before, and Steve's mom was not at all happy to take on the task of cooking a menu outside her usual repertoire. We went to their house in New Jersey, and the four of us read the ancient words out of the very contemporary Maxwell House coffee Haggadah. During dinner Steve's twin brother, Marc, called to talk to his folks and when their father said he would call back later because we were mid-Seder, we could all hear Marc's amazed, "WHY?" at the other end of the line. We could all also hear the whispered reply: "Because Cokie wanted it." Well, that was certainly true. And by the next year, after we had moved to California, where we knew hardly anyone, it was clear that if "Cokie wanted it," she better figure out how to do it herself. I went in search of a Haggadah and found one in the shop of the closest temple. It was The New Haggadah, published for the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation in 1942, the beloved "blue book," though now it's looking decidedly gray and missing its spine. The Haggadah did a great job of making the ceremony understandable and simple, but after the first year of using it, I found that a couple of our Jewish friends thought it omitted some parts of the service they loved, and I thought it included some preachy object lessons we could do without. So I sat down with several other Haggadahs, including of course the Maxwell House classic, plus our "blue book Bible," and wrote what has since been "our Haggadah." I changed the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition only by expanding gender references (the God of Abraham and Isaac became the God of Sarah and Rebecca as well, and the four sons became the four children), except where that seemed silly.

We didn't want our Haggadah to be too long— that was part of the point of writing our own—so I didn't include every prayer at every part of the service. But in picking and choosing I kept a few things in mind—first, how meaningful the particular prayers were to the Jews at the table: I had learned my first year that some recitations brought back memories that mattered a great deal; another was was whether Christians, too, might find their memories jogged by psalms they had heard during Easter services. But frankly, another consideration was keeping guests occupied while I struggled to get dinner on and off the table. As we embarked on this project of putting our Haggadah between hard covers, Steve said, "I think we should cut out 'for his mercy endureth forever.' " I was horrified. It's not only a beautiful responsorial psalm echoed joyously in the Easter Mass; it also allows me to get plates cleared and coffee served while everyone is reciting the lengthy verses. In fact there's many a year when I need the Lord's mercy to endureth a little bit longer because the cleanup takes so long.

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