More than anything else, it’s about love, Marra Gad said.
But there is a lot in that category of “anything else” — a great deal to explain, explore, and in the end absolve.
Ms. Gad is biracial, the daughter of a white Jewish mother and a Black father. She’s the adopted daughter of a white Jewish family. She is deeply and forever Jewish.
Those identities all bring her joy, but they do not always sit calmly together. She’s negotiated them for her entire life. Some of it is public — she can never not be read as Black, and that always affects other people’s understanding of her. And some of it is private — her position in her family brought out people’s flaws and strengths in un-ignorable ways.
Ms. Gad wrote about all of that in her memoir, “The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl,” and she’ll talk about it on Zoom before Selichot services this Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m.
“I turned 50 in April, and I’ve wanted to have this conversation for decades,” she said. “We will talk about racism, both in the Jewish community and outside it. We are living in a remarkable time, and right now there is a wide open window, because everything is right out there. That’s true in the larger American context, but also, to me, this is the first time within the Jewish community that we finally are willing to acknowledge that there are Jews who are not white, and also that we have a problem with racism.”
Although Ms. Gad sees systemic problems, her book is far more personal than it is political; at its heart, it’s a love note to her parents and her siblings, and a story about a toxic great-aunt whose hatred she overcame with the complicated onset of dementia. It’s about the ways the personal and the political are entwined, and the way that love at least sometimes can overcome.
“If I were going to speak, I always wanted it to be personal,” Ms. Gad said. “I believe that there are a lot of ways that we can get ourselves into the conversation, but I believe that sharing our personal stories is the way we can reach each other in a deeper way. Sharing our deepest stories is an act of love.
“So I chose to be deeply personal because I want to be seen as human — and there are so many people who don’t see me at all, much less see me as human.”
Ms. Gad was adopted by a couple who had been unable to conceive; soon after they brought her home her adoptive mother got pregnant. Eventually her parents had three children; Marra was the only one who was adopted, but their parents loved all three of them fiercely, profoundly, and equally. This is not a typical adoption memoir — Ms. Gad has no interest in finding her birth parents. Their role in her life was to allow her and her adoptive parents — in every sense, her real parents — to find each other. “This is the family I was supposed to have,” she said.
“DNA does not make a family. Love makes a family.”
Ms. Gad grew up in suburban Chicago. Now she lives in Los Angeles, where she is a film and television producer; she’s well-established in her field.
In her book, she writes about how some of her parents’ relatives were not comfortable with little Marra’s visible brown-ness. Her parents had no compunctions about cutting ties with those relatives to protect their daughter. The story of how her great-aunt rejected Marra — she was too dark, too big, too ungainly — and how Marra eventually rescued her great-aunt, because love comes with obligations, is at the heart of her book.
“Love is the strongest force in the universe,” Ms. Gad said. “I know what it is to be deeply hated because I existed, and I know what it is to be deeply loved, just because I exist. I understand the full breadth of the power of both of those things, and I believe deeply that love is the most powerful force in the universe.
“I believe that God created us to love each other.”
This understanding is particularly useful because “the whole notion of this High Holiday season, in addition to self-reflection, is to consider forgiveness,” Ms. Gad said. “We consider our actions through cheshbon hanefesh,” an accounting of our souls. “It started with Elul, and this process, as we go toward Yom Kippur, is about forgiveness. Both asking for it and giving it.
“Forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves; when we forgive people who wronged us, we don’t have to continue to carry that weight.
“The choice to forgive someone is something that I have to make every day, because racism and anti-Semitism and intolerance are part of our existence. I have to choose how to live every day. My choices are deliberate, and forgiveness is a big part of it.”
Forgiveness is hard, though. It’s not “I say I forgive you, and the other person apologizes, and then you embrace, and then you all go out to lunch,” Ms. Gad added.
The other half of forgiveness is apology; that, too, is both hard and necessary. “An apology is an act of freedom and self-love,” Ms. Gad said. “I have to let go of the pain you caused me. It doesn’t mean that I forget it. I t means that I don’t have to live with anger and pain.” Given all that, the combination of the personal and the political and the spiritual, “Selichot is a wonderful time to talk about my experience walking on this planet.”
Jews should not overlook the racism that’s lurking in the community, Ms. Gad said. “The Jewish community definitely, beautifully become more diverse in every way; my experience, however, in many ways has gotten worse over the last few years.” That’s because the racism in the outside world has become more overt. “I believe that we currently have an administration that has created and fostered an environment that allows racists and anti-Semites and white supremacists to roam free and unpunished,” she said. “In in the 1970s and 80s and 90s, people would talk behind my back. Now it is overtly confrontational.
“And I have never been so afraid.”
Given that she often is seen as an outsider in the Jewish community — “In my experience, if you are not clearly white then you are fair game,” she said — why does she stay? “I stay became I am Jewish,” Ms. Gad said simply. “I believe that Judaism is beautiful, and that some of the best parts of me come from that.
“I do not always care for the way that Jews treat me, but I am a Jew. No one is going to take that away from me. No one is going to chase me away. No one is going to cause me to not be what I am.”
Who: Marra B. Gad
What: Will speak at Selichot services on Zoom
For whom: Temple B’nai Abraham of Livingston and Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel of South Orange
When: Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m.
To get the link: Email email@example.com or call (973)994-2290.