I Wish Cokie and Steve Roberts Were In Our Camp


Cokie Roberts, who I love as an ABC News commentator, and her husband Steve Roberts, have published a new “interfaith Haggadah”–Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families.

I have to confess to very mixed feelings about this. I don’t like feeling envy, but I do.

I’m envious because as celebrities, Cokie and Steve Roberts command a lot of attention. Their book is getting pretty extraordinary publicity for a Haggadah – have you ever seen another new Haggadah featured on MSNBC or ABC News? Or the subject of a book tour, with stops in Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and I’m sure pretty much all over?

Now Steve Roberts is Jewish, Cokie Roberts is Catholic, and they’ve been married for 45 years. Their approach to interfaith family life, as best I understand it, is to observe both of their religions in their home, to expose children (their children are now grown) to both religions, and not to raise children to identify with one religion or the other.

We don’t pass judgment here at InterfaithFamily.com. We don’t say the Roberts’ approach is wrong, or bad. But it’s not the approach that we recommend to interfaith couples, and I’m envious of the publicity their approach is now getting.

In our camp, we think engaging in Jewish life is a wonderful source of meaning and value that is available not just to Jews but to their partners too, and we do what we can to invite interfaith couples to try it in hopes they will like it. We don’t say the religious traditions of the partner who is not Jewish should be hidden or forgotten. But in the surveys we’ve done for the last seven years, interfaith couples raising their children as Jews do participate in Christmas and Easter celebrations, but not in the religious aspects of the holidays. That’s the approach we recommend.

It’s wonderful that Cokie Roberts participates very fully in her family’s seder and appears to have been the driving force in starting the tradition in the first place. But according to ABC News, the Roberts’ Passover traditions “have evolved into a unique multi-cultural celebration that is exclusive to no faiths.” I think that’s sad. The Passover seder is exclusive to one faith — to Judaism.

What our camp needs is an interfaith couple with celebrity on the level of Cokie and Steve Roberts, to write a book about how an interfaith couple experiences Passover as a fundamentally Jewish, not multi-faith, holiday, as the story of the redemption of the Jewish people that is meaningful to both Jews and their partners. And then go on TV and a national book tour. Any takers?

One More Passover Roundup Post


I think it was Jewschool that tipped me off to the Idelsohn Society Passover Mix Tape. It’s not a tape, really, it’s a sound file with all kinds of music on it. It has Socalled on it and I really love that stuff. (It’s a little hipster-ish, but we like to be hip, right?)

If you feel hip to using the web for your seder, you will love My Haggadah Made It Myself. Our board chair, who is very web-savvy, found this one for us  in a blog post on coolhunting.com. I love the look of these illustrations!

Of course our CEO Ed Case is going to use the latest Velveteen Rabbi Haggadah.

When I tweeted yesterday’s Passover roundup post, I really won the jackpot–Esther Kustanowitz invited me to be a beta tester at haggadot.com, a project her roommate Eileen Levinson,  an artist and graphic designer, is masterminding. If you are the kind of person who knows what beta testing means, write to Eileen at info@haggadot.com.  For a lot of interfaith families, the Passover seder is best when you put together your own service. There are a lot of great resources out there to do this, but this one seems to put the emphasis on the pretty. I’m hoping that next year, this site will be available to everyone to make really personal haggadot that fit your family.



Julia Gutman wrote two articles about her intercultural relationship for InterfaithFamily.com, Does OK Really Mean OK? and Momo and Matzoh: Our Tibetan-Jewish Marriage. She sent me a press release that begins:

A Tibetan American Goes Solo, Leaves Job, Family, to Alert World of his People’s Plight
At 40, Lhakpa has never been to Tibet. As he brushes his teeth, photos of escaped prisoners, their flesh rotten, race through his mind. Despite protests over human rights, China was awarded the honor of hosting the Olympics. It is sports, many said, not politics. Remind you of 1936 Olympics in Germany, anyone? So he left his job and family to ride his motorcycle from the UN in New York on March 10, around the world on a shoestring, modern nomad style to talk about Tibet, hoping pressure changes China’s behavior. He plans to return by 2011.

I spoke with Julia on the phone. First she explained: Lhakpa is her husband! She said she was surprised at how supportive her Russian Jewish relatives were of his quest to publicize the plight of Tibetans. They saw a parallel between his people’s situation and what had happened to their families in the Second World War.

This is a good interfaith story for Passover, when Jews celebrate emerging from slavery to freedom. In this case, the 40 years in the desert are going to be eight months on a motorcycle.

If you would like to follow Lhakpa’s ride around the world, you can read his blog, freetibetworldtour.com, or follow him on Twitter, Youtube, or Facebook.

Good Things for Passover Roundup


We are gearing up for the holidays here at IFF, planning travel for Passover and Easter, and doing a little last-minute brainstorming about how to make our seders more accessible. At home, my family is getting stressed out (about the cleaning) and excited (about the seder.)

I’ve been following TweetTheExodus on Twitter. My husband found it last night and shared it with my 7-year-old  son, who was fascinated that @TheTenPlagues have their own account. If you want to see the story of the Exodus acted out in 140-character tweets, get over there and watch it!

Yesterday, I shared with my son an album I found in our house–Benjamin Lapidus on Herencia Judia. I wanted him to hear the rhumba version of the Four Questions. Most of the album is Caribbean musical settings of Ashekenazi tunes, except the first track is Sephardi, half in Ladino. I cannot believe how much fun it is to hear these tunes that are so familiar to me in this setting.

I wrote a short piece for Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies CJP Family Connections newsletter, Passover for Children, with some tips I’ve used with my family, including the books we used last year for our second-night, kid-focused seder. Not that all seders aren’t focused on teaching our children–no matter how old the children are.

This is probably the last possible minute for you to buy a variety of awesome seder-enhancers from haggadahsrus.com. You might have the bag of plagues or the Sedra Scenes (little plays you can use to act out the Passover story) at your local Judaica shop, but if you don’t–you can get them shipped directly from the land of my forefathers, Cleveland. Come comment here if you have a favorite hagaddah you want to recommend, or a Passover picture book you love. 

Oooh look, one more thing! our favorite food blogger smitten kitchen has posted< a Passover cookie recipe! OK, that had to go in this post, because that is a bona fide good thing for Passover.

Challah Day


I baked challah last night. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo–I did some cool braiding. I made the first recipe in the wonderful A Blessing of Bread, by Maggie Glezer. Glezer collected recipes, mainly from Jewish grandmothers, for holiday and festival breads. I’ve learned a lot since I started baking from it. I wanted to bake again to try to use up the rest of the flour in our house. I also made cake, and I’m planning to make pasta. The carb-a-thon is due to my need to clean out my cupboards of non-Passover food before cleaning the house for Passover.

I was thinking about how I would like to have more guests just this morning, as I was mulling over the resource guide to Jewish spirituality that I’m writing for IFF. I wanted to make the case that Jewish spirituality was mundane, something in which everyone could participate, Jewish or not. I thought of the mitzvah of hospitality in Judaism. I hadn’t known until I looked it up that it trumps prayer or study–it’s one of the most important mitzvot of all. Great for interfaith families, too, because there are lots of hospitable people who don’t realize that they are doing something spiritual. I have a great impression of the people who read and write for our site–they love to cook and invite people. When we do that, we’re in imitation of God, of whom we say in Psalms 145:16, “You open your hand and satisfy all the living.” That’s how we should be, too.

That’s why I am planning to spring Global Hunger Shabbat on my havurah this Shabbat, when I lead services on Saturday morning. (Now I’ll find out who is reading my blog posts, eh?) I’m going to use some of their educational materials–I also have some selections from Psalms in mind to sing. The Global Hunger Shabbat is part of a project from the American Jewish World Service. I also want to give a shout out to Project Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger, which makes grants to local hunger-relief agencies. In my area we have the Greater Boston Food Bank. We also have organizations that give to Jews in need–Passover food is extra expensive–like Jewish Family and Children’s Service Family Table.

Before Passover is a great time to think about people who are hungry, as we gear up for the seder when we say, “All who are hungry, let them come and eat.”

New Passover Books and Web Stuff


It wasn’t one of the plagues of Egypt–they expected the Nile to flood, and relied on the alluvial mud for agriculture–but floods are hard on Bostonians. One of the roads I travel to work has been closed and commuters are wailing and gnashing their teeth. It’s a good thing most of my work is online!

I was really happy I came in to the office yesterday because there was a new book for me, The Lone and Level Sands— a graphic novel about the exodus from Egypt. I have to say, it’s a little weird that so much of the book is from the point of view of the Egyptians. It’s like the part of the seder when you spill drops of wine to acknowledge Egyptian suffering in the plagues–a whole book of that. I didn’t see much in the book about the suffering of the Israelites under slavery–and that bothers me now, because I think it shows the extent to which people in our society identify with the people oppressing rather than with the oppressed. Still, the book is gorgeous–the artwork and the design are just fantastic. It could be a good way for a person who is very visual to understand the Passover story, and it’s non-sectarian.  Check it out!

Another Passover-themed book I was lucky enough to get at work is Dara Horn’s All Other Nights which just came out in paperback. It deserves all the hype it received in Jewish publications. Following the career of a Jewish spy for the Union in the Civil War, this novel does a much better job of troubling the question, “who were the good guys,” without losing the moral absolute that slavery and racism are wrong. Horn plays deftly with Jewish cultural and religious symbols–it doesn’t feel, excuse the expression, ham-handed, and neither does her presentation of the history.

One of our favorite Passover resources to recommend to interfaith families is The Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach–now available in a new version! Our CEO Ed Case uses this one every year. It’s free but do comment to let the editor know how much you love her work.

I also want to commend to you two books you can get through the web for Passover. One is my friend Debra Cash’s chapbook, Who Knows One–a book of poems with Passover images. You can see a sample poem in Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner’s supplementary seder readings. (You can find more of his Passover treasures at www.jewishfreeware.org.) The other online, sorry you do have to pay for it, book is A La Muestra! Recipes for a Rhodesli Passover by Janet Amateau.  Amateau is a scholar of Sephardi food whose grandparents were from the island of Rhodes.

I am excited to find a vegetarian Passover seder menu from Trinidad. The blogger is an amazing find–kosher Caribbean recipes! The seder recipes don’t seem particularly Trinidadian–but they are creative and mouth-watering, and I’m totally going to be following this blog from now on.

If you’re looking for plantains at the seder table, look to us at IFF–everyone should read Teresita Levy’s kosher-for-Passover Puerto Rican Easter dinner article. We have plenty of ideas, and we always want more. If you’re blending two cultures at your holiday table, we want to hear about it!

Passover Prep Lists–Lay Them On Us


I am editing the recipes we received for our Passover recipe contest and attempting to digest my lunch. See, I have this great plan–I’m going to try to use up all the non-Passover food, all the non-leavened food–all the hametz–before I make our house kosher-for-Passover. The problem is, that means eating a lot of mystery soupsicles. Every Saturday night after Shabbat, I try to remember to freeze the leftover soup in containers to take to work and eat, and now…I have to take it to work and eat it. Today I ate some…tofu matzah balls with leeks and carrots? I think.

One of my all-time favorite internet friends (one whom I’ve recruited to write for IFF and visited in person) asked me for help developing her Passover seder prep list, and I’ve been meaning to throw the question out to you folks. Now, if she’d asked me before she wrote her own list, my bare-bones list would have looked like this:

wine or grape juice
copies of the Hagaddah for each person
ingredients for haroset

But that’s because I go to either my mother, my mother-in-law, or my husband’s aunt every year for Passover, and they worry about all the stuff you really need and give me cooking assignments. Also, because I happen to own a lot of Passover dishes and cooking utensils. If you buy only one cooking implement per holiday but you keep the holiday in your own home for whatever, 20 years, you’re going to have the mini-food-processor, offset spatula, egg whisk, coffee grinder… plus the dishes my great-aunt Jane got from the bank one year and gave me because at the time I wasn’t married and needed good china. I’ve got born-in-an-observant-Jewish-family privilege here, and it’s not fair–I have to check that privilege if I’m going to give good advice! Help me.

Yes, so much for keeping it simple, as Tamar Fox advises us all to do. Some go crazy cleaning, some cooking and some, acquiring educational materials. My friend is still looking for a poster of the order of the seder she saw at one point. Luckily, I know a good place to send people online to get enriching seder materials–my friend Joe Gelles sells a plagues bag if you don’t have a Judaica shop that’s local to you, and Modern Tribe has Passover gifts for children that might also make your seder fun.

Give my friend your list. What do you make sure to have on hand for Passover to make it yummy, fun for your kids, accessible to non-Jewish relatives and friends, simple enough so you don’t lose your mind?

Emancipation of the Non-Jewish Partner


During Passover–which began Wednesday night–Jews are commanded to make a “mishna,” or commentary, on the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The rabbis who drew up the Passover rituals demanded that each successive generation find ways to connect the ancient story of enslavement and freedom to their lives.

One of today’s parallels has less to do with restrictions of freedom on Jews than it has to do with restrictions on their partners of different religious backgrounds. Perversely, other Jews are the ones restricting their freedom.

In yesterday’s The (New York) Jewish Week, Kerry Olitzky, director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, and Adam Bronfman, managing director of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, wrote an op-ed urging the Jewish community to reconsider its restrictions on synagogue membership and ritual involvement for non-Jews:

… it was not Moses but his non-Jewish wife Zipporah who took into her own hands, quite literally, the task of circumcising their sons.

Today, we know of many intermarried households where the partner who is not Jewish is an equal contributor in raising Jewish children. In many cases the non-Jewish partner has the greatest influence over the children’s Jewish identities. Yet it is not difficult to imagine that if Moses and Zipporah were alive today, some synagogue administrator would be sitting them down to explain why their household of four is eligible for an individual membership because only Moses can join, and that only Moses’ name will appear on temple mailings to their home.

Continue reading

Let My People…Laugh


Tis the season for matzah, wine and sometimes really bad food–unless you make one of our excellent staff recommended recipes, of course. As Passover approaches, so do the parodies of the holiday. Over the years I have seen many versions of the haggadah, the book of songs, stories and prayers read during the Passover seder (meal). This year it was taken to a new level when I was forwarded the Facebook Haggadah. For those of you on Facebook –this is hysterical. For those of you not on Facebook, you may find it slightly humorous but I have some other great links for you.

I found this video on YouTube and it made me smile. I’m particularly excited to share it with my non-Jewish husband who, while having attended many Passover seders over the past six years may find it useful in explaining what’s going on. (It’s after the cut.) Continue reading

New Passover Seder Resource


My nuclear family is going to my mother-in-law this year for Passover, and we are responsible for the child-friendly content of the second night seder. Even though both of us have worked in Jewish education in different capacities, we’ve never been in charge of leading a seder. We’ve always been participants at family seders that older family members led. This year we’re getting trained on doing it ourselves. I don’t think we’re going to be doing it alone, though, since my mother-in-law was a kindergarten teacher for many years and is sure to have a lot to say.

Yesterday my husband went to the Jewish bookstore to get copies of some of the books that I found for the Additional Resources page for the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families. Today my mom sent me a great resource: the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance published a booklet of activities for children and adults to enhance the Passover seder.

I have used JOFA’s materials in the past, when I was a bat mitzvah tutor for a girl who went to Orthodox day school–we used their booklet on Orthodox bat mitzvah options. I was impressed by the level of knowledge that JOFA educators thought a girl could achieve. (One girl in the booklet learned a chapter of Talmud and then had a traditional siyum, or completion party, as her bat mitzvah celebration. Wow.) Still, I wasn’t expecting JOFA to put out Passover resources that would be so useful for people in interfaith families. (I was also kind of surprised to get something from my mom from an organization with “feminist” in its name, since she usually prefaces the word “feminist” with the word “farbrenteh”– Yiddish for “burning”–but my mom is also a very experienced Jewish educator, and you can count on her to know good materials when she sees them.) It fits with my sense that we are all one big Jewish community and that there is continuity between secular Jews and halachic Jews, Orthodox and Reform, inmarried and intermarried, feminist and … not so invested in feminism. You know that if all of our families were leaving Egypt, we would have been redeemed, together.