The Color of Water

Ruth’s father, whose full name is Fishel Shilsky. He was born in Russia but crossed the border to Poland to marry Mameh before immigrating to the United States. He was an Orthodox rabbi and a shopkeeper, but more than anything he was a cruel, greedy man. Tateh molested Ruth and verbally abused her siblings and his wife. He cared more about his own wealth and wellbeing than anyone else’s, and seemed to value his family because of the free labor they provided. He was also a racist, and although he sold goods to the black community in Suffolk he despised his black customers, and disowned Ruth for marrying a black man.

Tateh / Fishel Shilsky Quotes in The Color of Water

The The Color of Water quotes below are all either spoken by Tateh / Fishel Shilsky or refer to Tateh / Fishel Shilsky. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead edition of The Color of Water published in 2006.
Chapter 21 Quotes

“I know you’re gonna marry a shvartse. You’re making a mistake.” That stopped me cold, because I didn’t know how he learned it. To this day I don’t know. He said, “If you marry a nigger, don’t ever come home again. Don’t come back.”
“I’ll always come to see Mameh.”
“Not if you marry a nigger you won’t,” he said. “Don’t come back.”

Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 22 Quotes

Like most of the Jews in Suffolk they treated me very kindly, truly warm and welcoming, as if I were one of them, which in an odd way I suppose I was. I found it odd and amazing when white people treated me that way, as if there were no barriers between us. It said a lot about this religion—Judaism—that some of its followers, old southern crackers who talked with southern twangs and wore straw hats, seemed to believe that its covenants went beyond the color of one’s skin. The Sheffers, Helen Weintraub, the Jaffes, they talked to me in person and by letter in a manner and tone that, in essence, said “Don’t forget us. We have survived her. Your mother was part of this…”

Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:
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As I walked along the wharf and looked over the Nansemond River, which was colored an odd purple by the light of the moon, I said to myself, “What am I doing here? This place is so lonely. I gotta get out of here.” It suddenly occurred to me that my grandmother had walked around here and gazed upon this water many times, and the loneliness and agony that Hudis Shilsky felt as a Jew in this lonely southern town—far from her mother and sisters in New York, unable to speak English, a disabled Polish immigrant whose husband had no love for her and whose dreams of seeing her children grow up in America vanished as her life drained out of her at the age of forty-six—suddenly rose up in my blood and washed over me in waves. A penetrating loneliness covered me, lay on me so heavily I had to sit down and cover my face. I had no tears to shed. They were done long ago, but a new pain and a new awareness were born inside me. The uncertainty that lived inside me began to dissipate; the ache that the little boy who stared in the mirror felt was gone. My own humanity was awakened, rising up to greet me with a handshake as I watched the first glimmers of sunlight peek over the horizon.

Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:
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Tateh / Fishel Shilsky Character Timeline in The Color of Water

The timeline below shows where the character Tateh / Fishel Shilsky appears in The Color of Water. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Dad
Family Theme Icon
Ruth’s parents were polar opposites. Her father, Fishel Shilsky, who she called Tateh, was an Orthodox rabbi. He was Russian but moved to Poland for his arranged marriage... (full context)
Chapter 3: Kosher
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Ruth, narrating again, describes Tateh and Mameh’s loveless arranged marriage. Mameh’s family was upper class and wealthy, and was able... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Old Testament
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...people will keep their word, whether it’s a marriage contract or a synagogue promising that Tateh can preach for a year. The Shilskys move from town to town as Tateh has... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...insular, anti-Semitic town. Ruth endures years of insults from other children in school. Despite this, Tateh decides he’s sick of traveling, and opens a grocery store. The Jewish families at the... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
...get along. Although Mameh is a devoted wife, a talented cook, and an observant Jew, Tateh does not love her, and even insults her and mocks her disability. Ruth has no... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
...in life, Ruth sees that she was running from her father. She fears and resents Tateh because he sexually abused her as a child, and she felt she couldn’t tell anyone... (full context)
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
As a child, Ruth has low self-esteem, partially due to Tateh’s mistreatment of her. She credits her first husband, Andrew Dennis McBride, with teaching her about... (full context)
Chapter 7: Sam
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...don’t fear white supremacists specifically, but they do worry about anti-Jewish sentiment in their town. Tateh buys a gun for protection, and Ruth constantly worries that he’d accidentally shoot himself while... (full context)
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Ruth’s brother Sam is quiet and hardworking. Tateh is harder on him than he is on his daughters, and Sam is left with... (full context)
Chapter 9: Shul
Religion Theme Icon
As the local rabbi, Tateh gives Hebrew lessons, circumcises children, and kills cows in a Kosher way. Watching her father,... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 11: Boys
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...also becoming a teenager, and starts to want nice clothes and attention from boys. Unfortunately Tateh is very cheap, although he will spend money on himself, and he won’t pay for... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...and eventually he invites her to go on a walk. Ruth initially speculates that because Tateh hated black people, and black men in particular, she rebelled by dating a black man,... (full context)
Chapter 15: Graduation
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...graduation because it ends with a ceremony in a Protestant Church. For this same reason Tateh at first refuses to give her the money for her cap and gown, but Mameh... (full context)
Chapter 16: Driving
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
...since forgotten, Ruth knew how to drive before she was eighteen, when she would drive Tateh’s car around Suffolk. James speculates that “she had left her past so far behind she... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Promise
Family Theme Icon
One day, Ruth misses her mother and decides to call home. Tateh answers and tells her Mameh is sick and he needs help with the store. Ruth... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Although Mameh is a devoted wife, Tateh begins to cheat on her with a white Christian woman from the town. He has... (full context)
Chapter 20: Old Man Shilsky
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...black man living there knew the Shilsky family. The man, Eddie, knew “ol’ Rabbi Shilsky” (Tateh) and thinks it’s hilarious that he ended up with a mixed-race grandson. He tells James... (full context)
Chapter 21: A Bird Who Flies
Family Theme Icon
Tateh meets Ruth at the bus station and tries to bribe her into staying, promising that... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Tateh warns Ruth that if she ever marries a black man she won’t be welcome back,... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Back in New York, Dennis is still working for Aunt Mary, and he hears that Tateh has hired a detective to look for Ruth. Not long after that, Dennis overhears that... (full context)
Chapter 22: A Jew Discovered
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...to Suffolk when he met Aubrey Rubenstein, an office worker whose father had taken over Tateh’s store around 1942. He made some phone calls and connected James with other Jewish people... (full context)