Cokie And Steve’s Unity Haggadah


With intermarriage increasingly pervasive and accepted in American Jewish life, it should be no surprise that the No. 1 best-selling Haggadah on right now is Cokie and Steve Roberts’ “Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families.” The user-friendly book incorporates all the standard elements of the Haggadah, along with additional readings, explanations and recipes. (The largely Middle Eastern dishes adhere to Sephardic standards, including things like beans and rice.) It is based on the handmade one the famous journalists, married more than 40 years, use at their ever-growing seders.

The introduction describes how the Catholic Cokie inspired Steve’s secular Jewish family to embrace Passover. Soon after, Cokie and Steve took over the seder, inviting extended family from both sides and many intermarried friends, including well-known National Public Radio colleagues like Nina Totenberg and Linda Wertheimer.

The Roberts each spoke with The Jewish Week about Passover, their interfaith marriage and their recent book tour — during which the couple spoke at many Jewish institutions and Cokie was even honored with a lifetime membership to Hadassah. (For more from the interviews go to

Q: You’ve been touring the country to promote the book. The response?

A: Cokie: The feedback has been terrific, and I know that wouldn’t have been true 10 years ago, much less 45 years ago when we got married. We published a book in 2000 about marriage [“From This Day Forward”] and there was a lot of skittishness at that point. In the decade since, there’s been a lot more recognition of reality, and so that now a lot of congregations, JCCs, rabbis and official people in organized Judaism are recognizing that half their kids are marrying non-Jews. And so instead of shunning them, they are finding ways to embrace them and encourage the practice of the religion.

Steve: When we traveled for “From This Day Forward,” we spoke at a JCC and the woman who picked us up said, “I asked to pick you up because [in a whisper] I wanted to tell you my son married an Italian.” She felt she could only talk about that privately. Now people talk about it openly. I can look out at any Jewish gathering and know that almost everyone there has a close family member or friend who’s intermarried. It’s no longer this threat: it’s reality.

Have you gotten any flack?

Steve: The people who are offended by it are generally not going to come to our events, but there is a certain viewpoint — we heard it from someone who called in to a radio show we did in San Francisco for example — that there is only one way to live a “proper” Jewish life and that’s to follow all the 613 mitzvot and that anything else is diluting the tradition … Those are not the people who we wrote this book for.

What spurred you to publish this, and what are some of the unique aspects of the book?

Cokie: Carolyn Hessel of the Jewish Book Council came to us and said there is no Haggadah for interfaith families, and it’s a crying need. The only real difference [between this one and others] is that our aim was to make it as accessible as possible, so if somebody wanted to have a seder and was intimidated by the whole process, they would feel this made it easier. … Even something as simple as the book goes front to back rather than back to front. What we’d noticed was when we would switch to the blue book [a printed Haggadah they used to supplement their homemade one], every year somebody who was new would turn it the wrong way and then be embarrassed. There’s no need to embarrass someone.

Probably not too many other Haggadahs include quotes from Jesus, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.

Steve: I did that very deliberately and spent a lot of time selecting those quotes. We wanted to find ways to make non-Jews comfortable without changing the essential nature of the seder. … It’s a Jewish holiday, a Jewish book, but at the same time there are ways around the edges to make it more accessible and more meaningful, providing readings that spoke to the essential spirit of the holiday but not from Jews. We hope the message is that you can connect to this.

Cokie: I feel very strongly that even though I think anyone can relate to the story and message of Passover that this is a Jewish holiday. This Haggadah is in no way an attempt to Christianize or baptize Passover. Quite the contrary: I feel incredibly respectful of Jews throughout the centuries who have worked to keep this alive, sometimes at great personal peril.

You raised your children [now in their 40s] in both religions. How did that work out?

Steve: They weren’t bar mitzvahed or confirmed. The agreement was that we’d teach them both traditions and instruct them in our home, because we knew we could control that and that we could love, respect and embrace each other’s versions of our tradition. … We’re deeply convinced our kids have absorbed the values of both religions, but how they choose to practice is their own business and choice.

Do you think they will someday take over hosting the seder?

Cokie: Please, God! As it is, our daughter lives here and always helps. I’m sure she would be happy someday to take it over.