Ruth was born into an Orthodox Jewish family. Her father was a rabbi, and her mother, who was a victim of polio, was from a wealthy family. Ruth's parents' marriage was an arranged marriage, and it was not a happy one. Ruth's family emigrated from Poland to the United States when she was two years old. They stayed with Ruth's grandparents when they arrived in the United States. Ruth's father was a sort of itinerant rabbi, and the family moved frequently. They finally settled in Suffolk, Virginia when Ruth was eight or nine.
Ruth's father opened a store that finally provided a living for the family, but Ruth's experiences in Suffolk were mostly unpleasant, because of the community and because of her family. As a Jewish girl, she experienced comments like "Christ killer"(31) and "Jew baby" (31) from her classmates. She says she felt completely unliked during these years in Suffolk. The Ku Klux Klan was prominent in Suffolk, too, a cause of concern, since they did not like Jewish people any more than they liked African-Americans. Her father made Ruth and Ruth's brother work long hours in the store. Sadly, her father sexually molested her for many years, something she could not bring herself to tell anyone about. But Ruth does say "We had good times, especially with my mother" (34).
Ruth's brother Sam ran away from home because of the unhappy home life, and Ruth "escaped" from her unhappiness by falling in love with an African-American when she was about fifteen. From the perspective of her father, who was completely prejudiced, and from the perspective of Suffolk, there is nothing she could have done that was worse. She also became pregnant. Ruth's mother discovered the relationship and the pregnancy and sent Ruth away to stay with her grandparents in New York. Ruth had an abortion while she was there, and returned to Suffolk to finish high school. Once she graduated, she left Suffolk for good, leaving behind a sister and mother whom she loved, but not able to stay any longer in such an unhappy situation.