As the local rabbi, Tateh gives Hebrew lessons, circumcises children, and kills cows in a Kosher way. Watching her father, who she already fears, butcher animals makes it hard for Ruth to eat meat for much of her childhood.
Although her father is a rabbi, seeing up-close the workings of the Jewish faith makes Ruth less excited about her birth religion, and causes her to associate it with violence and her own unhappy family.
Suffolk has three schools, one for black townspeople, one for whites, and one for the Jewish community. Although Tateh doesn’t think Ruth will learn anything in school, and he pays for private lessons in sewing and record keeping, legally Ruth has to go to the white school. The other kids tease her, which is what first prompts her to change her name from Rachel to the less Jewish-sounding Ruth. Ruth is lonely, and feels that no one likes her. Even the Jewish community ostracizes her family because their store also sells to Suffolk’s black residents.
Ruth grows up isolated from the dominant white Christian population in her town, as well as from the Jewish community. Although one could expect the Jewish and black communities to feel some solidarity for each other, as the white, Christian majority treats both groups as outsiders, there is instead animosity towards the black residents of Suffolk from the Jewish ones.
In the fourth grade, Ruth makes her first and only friend, Frances. Frances isn’t Jewish, but she doesn’t care that Ruth is. Although Tateh disapproves of Ruth’s friendship with a non-Jew, she disobeys him and remains friends with Frances all through childhood. Ruth appreciates that when Frances is around, the other kids at school don’t pick on her.
Frances becomes the first non-biological member of Ruth’s extended family, and is one of the first people Ruth meets who treats her with kindness and compassion, and who doesn’t see her religion as an impediment to respect or friendship.
As a child, many of the families around Ruth are poor, regardless of race, Frances’s family included. Comparably, Ruth’s family is relatively well off and she has “to admit I never starved like a lot of people did.” But, she explains, “I was starving in another way. I was starving for love and affection.”
Although Ruth doesn’t grow up poor, her family doesn’t provide her the emotional support a person needs to feel happy and loved. Later in life and in her own family Ruth prioritizes community, love, and belonging above material wealth.