The Color of Love: An Interview with Jewish Memoirist Marra Gad
Marra Gad is a Los Angeles-based TV and film producer with a rich Jewish background: She’s an alumna of URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), a Reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, WI, and she holds a master's degree in modern Jewish history.
She’s also the author of a new memoir, The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl (Bolden Books, 2019), chronicling her childhood as “a mixed-race, Jewish unicorn” in Chicago. Her story focuses, especially, on her relationship with her Great-Aunt Nette, estranged from the family for 15 years following a racist comment. When the older woman is diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s, only Gad is in a position to help.
We caught up with her to hear more about the book, her story, and her philosophy on life and love.
What was it like growing up biracial in a primarily white Jewish community?
I grew up as committed and involved a Reform Jew as you possibly can. I went through religious school to confirmation, I was president of my youth group affiliated with NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, and I’ve been to Israel a million times. There’s such beauty and richness in Judaism, and had I not been born Jewish, I would choose it every time.
I was, however, also the lone brown face in a sea of white Jews, which was not something that anyone wanted to discuss directly. And in the 1970s and 1980s, we were not having a larger societal conversation about being biracial, so the discussion took place behind my back. People talked about my family and me, but not to us – and it was painful.
Why did you decide to write this book at this point in your life? Why now?
It felt like the perfect storm: I had a story to tell, I felt like it was time to tell it, and I was ready to speak. And, in this sociopolitical climate, we’re talking about everything.
The Jewish community and the world are getting beautifully more diverse, and there are many more brown and black faces in our community. I was alone in my brown-ness, and it was really challenging not to see myself in anyone around me. I want people to know that they are not alone.
What responses have you received from the people in your life who have read the book?
For some, the response is, “Wow, we didn’t know she was in this much pain.” Some people have reached out to say that they found themselves wondering if they might have done any of the things I recount in the book. There are also those who don’t know what to say – and that makes sense to me. I can understand that it might be uniquely challenging for those who know me to read my story.
Other people have seen themselves directly in my story and have reached out to apologize – white, Jewish friends and black friends alike. I think it takes a lot of courage to do that, and I’m grateful each time it happens.
You’re currently on a book tour, including speaking at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial, the largest Jewish gathering in North America. What reactions do you hear from people who come to hear you tell your story?
People have been absolutely incredible. At every event, proud grandparents line up to show me pictures of their biracial and multiracial grandchildren, sometimes crying and begging me to tell them that their grandkids won’t experience what I did.
While I cannot make that promise to them, I remind them that their grandchildren are not alone and that, together, by speaking openly about how we treat one another, we are making progress. I pray for the day I can say that the things I experienced will not happen to another person, another child.
It’s a privilege to stand in front of groups of people and say, “This is my story, and I’d like to talk with you about it.” I never thought I would see the day when we would have a discussion like the one I’m having around my book and around how we treat people who we view as “other.”
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
In America, we often distill racism to issues of black and white, but there isn’t a corner of the world where there isn't some group of people telling another group of people, “You are less-than.” I believe that racism, hatred, and intolerance are human conditions – and human problems for us to solve together.
Often, when people are confronted with hate and intolerance, they meet it with the same, because nothing is more painful than being dehumanized. But the way we react is up to us. If we meet anger with anger, intolerance with intolerance, we are simply putting more of that out into a world that does not need more. Love is the most powerful force in the universe – and that is always the path I choose to take. In a world that is not always loving, you can always choose love.
My goal in writing this book was not to change anyone. I had a story to tell, and the fact that it has turned into an open, honest, noncombative discussion about racism and hate and intolerance and love is a gift.
It is humbling and overwhelming, in the best way. I say it all the time: My heart is constantly overflowing.
Marra Gad will be a featured speaker at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial, the largest Jewish gathering in North America, held December 11-15, 2019, in Chicago, IL. Register now or watch the event online to join thousands of Jews from around the world to learn, pray, share ideas, dance and sing, hear from inspiring speakers, reunite with old friends, create new connections, an