When Cokie Roberts' daughter needed the recipe for haroset -the apple and nut mixture traditionally served at the Passover seder-she called her Catholic mother. In all, Cokie has hosted 30 seders in her home, so haroset
"There's a joke in the family that Cokie is the 'best Jew in the family,'" tells Steve, "and there's a lot of truth to that."
Cokie and Steve first spotted each other across the yard at a student political conference at Ohio State in the summer of 1962. After an enjoyable, but somewhat stressful courtship (due to their different faiths), they introduced the idea of marriage to their respective families.
Converting or abandoning one of the religions was not an option for either member of the couple because both Cokie and Steve value their own faiths too much. Neither family was thrilled about their prospective union, considering both sides were firmly planted in their own religious traditions. But after the Roberts got to know Cokie, and the Boggs (Cokie's father, Hale Boggs was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 32 years before his untimely death) became acquainted with Steve, the families grew to love their future daughter-in-law/ son-in-law. As Steve's father once told his son of Cokie: "It would be a lot easier to oppose this match if it weren't so obvious that she's the perfect girl for you."
The bride and groom waited until after Shabbat to get married and stood under a chuppah
More than three decades later, Cokie and Steve are happily married and have raised two now-grown children, a son and a daughter, in both the Catholic and Jewish traditions. "School's out on how good a job we did [with our kids], but we feel very strongly that it has worked for us," Cokie says. "We have enriched and enlarged our lives by embracing each other's traditions. The children have had wonderful exposure to both traditions and faiths, and we have [maintained] a very loving and encouraging and faith-filled household."
In embracing Judaism, Cokie knew she would need to participate in the more religious aspects of the faith. Many of her friends had grown up as secular Jews, and their sense of Judaism was more cultural than religious, according to Cokie. For her, though, because she is not Jewish, she knew she couldn't act only as a cultural Jew. No, she would need to celebrate Judaism religiously and maintain a Jewish presence in her home. Cokie found accepting Judaism easy, as she saw many similarities between the Catholic and Jewish faiths.
Steve and Cokie recently penned a book called From this Day Forward detailing their voyage in marriage, written in dialogue-form to retain their own separate voices within the pair. In the book, they also chronicle other American marriages such as John and Abigail Adams. The book-a large portion of which focuses on intermarriage-has helped many young, struggling intermarried couples to learn from two people who have made their marriage work.
But they also wrote the book to allay fears about marriage in general. "I had a suspicion that America was a hard place to be married because our founding documents are so much about individual liberties and individual rights," Cokie remarks. "It really fights against the ideas of couples and community and all the things that are necessary in marriage."
Steve, who teaches at George Washington University, discovered that his students are some of the biggest skeptics of marriage. "I have been very struck by how many of my students have been discouraged by marriage--their parents were breaking up, their friends, their teachers, their coaches-and a number of them were frightened of marriage," he says.
At the same time, despite the poor odds, most of the students yearn for their own marriages, according to Steve. They hungered for someone to provide good news about marriage, a little encouragement.
"When I would go out to the campus bar with kids, they didn't ask what Al Gore was really like," Steve explains. "They asked what Cokie is really like."
Steve's words of marriage wisdom? "You can often tell a good marriage by the number of teeth marks on your tongue," he says. "Candor is often overrated in marriage. I don't mean deceit or lying, but tact and tolerance. Often, the very best thing you can do in a marriage is shut up."