In the new edition of The Jewish Week, I have a short Q&A with Cokie and Steve Roberts, authors of the bestselling “Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families.” (Although it should be noted that since I put that article to bed, “The 30-Minute Seder” has bumped Cokie and Steve from the No. 1 position on Amazon.com.)
I was a bit nervous interviewing two prominent journalists, but both of them were quite gracious interviewees, and, other than the book’s two Jesus and Pope John Paul II quotes, which, I admit, made me a little squeamish, it is a pretty good Haggadah. I especially like how friendly and down-to-earth it is, how accessible it makes the holiday, and how emphatic it is in stating that it is not trying to “Christianize” Passover.
I was especially struck by how Cokie, like many Christian women married to Jewish men, actively pushed the family to take Jewish practice more seriously. It was she who pushed for the family to make Passover an annual practice, first nudging Steve’s secular parents to host a seder and when that didn’t work, putting together her own Haggadah.
In an observation that I’ve heard countless times from other intermarried Jews, Steve told me, “I’m a better Jew because I married a Catholic."
"My twin brother married a Jewish woman, and there’s not a shred of Jewish tradition in their house," he added. "If the rabbis had looked at the two twins, they would’ve said he did it right: but what was the reality? His daughter comes to my house for Passover!”
That said, I am not a big fan of the Roberts’ celebrate everything, raise-your-children-in-both-faiths approach to intermarriage, something they discuss at greater length in their earlier book, “From This Day Forward.”
Their kids, who were neither bar/bat mitzvah-ed nor confirmed, were basically home-schooled in Judaism and Catholicism “because we knew we could control that and could love, respect and embrace each other’s versions of our traditions,” Steve said.
“Where the uncertainty would be introduced was if we sent the kids to religious school and exposed them to clergy of either faith that took a very different view of intermarriage,” he added. “That we didn’t want for our kids, because we thought that would be even more confusing.”
Steve and Cokie are a bit cagy about discussing how their children, in their 40s now and with children of their own, identify and practice, saying they respect their privacy and don’t want to talk about them publicly.
However, Steve said he is “deeply convinced our kids have absorbed the values of both religions,” and, when I asked Cokie if she thinks her kids will ever take over hosting the family seder, she said she expects her daughter to.
Granted, it’s easy for me to be all high and mighty about going the Jewish-only route when my husband has no interest in doing anything Catholic (he actually raised his eyebrows in skepticism/disapproval when I told him about Cokie and Steve). And who knows how our kids will turn out in the end, even if now they’re pretty Jew-y.
Nonetheless, and I say this as someone who, growing up, yearned for a more substantive Jewish upbringing, I do think it’s more meaningful and satisfying (and dare I say more faithful to the traditions?) to go through life identifying and belonging fully in one community, even while one acknowledges, respects and takes pride in a more diverse family heritage.
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