Cokie Roberts Shares Personal Traditions From Her Interfaith Marriage

Cokie Roberts and her husband Steve pen a book based on the Haggadah.

ByABC News via GMA logo
March 4, 2011, 3:38 PM

March 7, 2011— -- For those of the Jewish faith, Passover typically entails reading the Haggadah, a religious text that sets the order of the Seder. For forty years, journalist and ABC News contributor Cokie Roberts' Haggadah consisted of "a stapled together sheaf of papers wearing varying degrees of wine and mint sauce stains," a document she typed out herself in 1970.

Since then, Roberts' Haggadah has evolved into many different versions, just like her Passover traditions have evolved into a unique multi-cultural celebration that is exclusive to no faiths. In her and her husband Steve's new book "Our Haggadah," the couple shares a Passover guide for multifaith families based on their Haddagah, as well as their own Passover experiences as an interfaith couple.

Read the Preface from the book below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library.

This Year in Your House

Actually "our Haggadah" has never looked anything like this. For more than forty years, a stapled together sheaf of papers wearing varying degrees of wine and mint sauce stains—that's been our Haggadah. The original one dates to 1970, and we still have a few copies, typed out on an old Smith-Corona, interspersed with more than a few typos, printed on that shiny paper used by the first copying machines. We revised it once, after twenty-five years, when our neighbor, and a regular participant in our Seders, Doug Firstenberg, offered to print up better typed, more readable copies. At first, we heard howls of protest from our friends -- where were the marks and mistakes? It didn't take long of course for us to infuse the "Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition" with a new set of wine stains.

Our Haggadah has also been something of a mishmash where we go back and forth from our homemade sheets to what we call the "blue book," a Haggadah published by the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation that we've used for decades as a supplement to the typewritten pages. Every year Steve and I argue about exactly where in the service we first move to the book, causing hoots and hollers from our longtime Seder buddies who have come to see this dispute as a Passover tradition. It's just one of the many Passover traditions—some silly, some special—that we and our friends, old and new, have come to anticipate annually as we celebrate the festival of freedom that is at the same time universal and unique. People from all ountries and cultures can relate to the theme of breaking out of bondage, but it is the Jewish people who have kept alive this celebration, often risking their lives to do it, over thousands of years.

One of the most meaningful stories I've read about Passover is in Yaffa Eliach's Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust. She tells about a group of Jews at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp who signed a petition asking the commandant to give them flour to bake the matzo in exchange for their daily bread ration. After they submitted the petition, when they heard nothing from their captors, the Jews were convinced that they had signed their death warrants— that they would become the sacrificial lambs. But then the word came that they could have their flour and build an oven to bake it in and they were able to produce three misshapen black matzo. They put them on a turned-over bunk bed used as a table, along with a broken pot substituting for a Seder plate. "On it there were no roasted shankbone, no egg, no haroset, no traditional greens, only a boiled potato given by a kind old German who worked in the showers." As the prisoners wept, the rabbi leading the Seder recited the Haggadah from memory. And with children surrounding him, he proclaimed the promise of Passover: "We who are witnessing the darkest night in history, the lowest moment of civilization, will also witness the great light of redemption." Even in Bergen-Belsen the rabbi insisted that his people would go from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom. That is the faith and hope that Jews all over the world and in many different languages bring to the Passover table as they ask on the same night the same question: Why is this night different from all others?

But I am not one of those Jews. I am a Catholic who feels privileged to be included in this communion. No one invited me, I pretty much wangled myself in, and that, to me, is the point of transforming our Haggadah into something a little less homespun. There are many non-Jews who want to sit at the Passover table, and many do in churches around America. That's different, however, from serving up your own Seder, which often seems intimidating at best, intrusive at worst. So this is our story of our Haggadah, and, more important, our Passover.

Even though Steve and I knew that we wanted to recognize both of our religions and rituals in our home, we had a somewhat inchoate idea of what that meant. Since Arthur Goldberg had participated in our wedding ceremony, he and Mrs. Goldberg took an interest in our marriage and very kindly invited us to their Seder in 1967, the first Passover after we were married, when we were living in New York. With some trepidation we joined in the somewhat famous Goldberg Seder, held at the time at the residence of the United States' ambassador to the United Nation, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. As tuxedoed waiters served traditional dishes like matzo ball soup and gefilte fish laid out on elegant china, and the guests each took what seemed to me their very comfortable places in reading the words of the ritual, I was both mystified about what was going on and excited to be a small part of it. It wasn't until 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, that I felt I could participate with gusto.