The Color of Water

What are 3 differences in the way the Suffolk Jewish community of 1982 and the Jewish rabbi in 1992 react to James?

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In November of 1982, James experienced an identity crisis that manifested in his career. He bounced from one reporting job to another, and became intensely frustrated with his mother: "It had gotten to the point where I didn't see why she made such a secret of it." He visited Suffolk in search of Tateh's store, only to find a McDonald's where it had once stood. In Suffolk, he met a 66-year-old black man named Eddie Thompson who still remembered the Shilskys. James's mother's name, Eddie told James, was called "Rachel" back then. This was the first time that James had ever heard his mother's former name. Eddie told him that he remembered Ruth's mother, who was crippled: a nice lady who always slipped them fruit and candy when her husband wasn't looking. As for the Rabbi, he had run off with an enormous woman with whom he was having an affair; this was particularly humorous because Shilsky was such a diminutive man. Rachel, Eddie recalled, just disappeared one day.

In 1992, James stood in front of the synagogue in Suffolk, contemplating the fact that his blood ran through this place. Hudis Shilsky, he discovered, was buried in a Long Island graveyard. Sam Shilsky had died in 1944 while in the service. He traced the Rabbi to a Brooklyn address in the 1960s, but, after that, he had vanished. Dee-Dee had also vanished from Suffolk; she withdrew from school one semester short of graduating, just before Mameh's death. James knew he could probably find her, but didn't have the heart to reopen old wounds. In the state building, James met Aubrey Rubinstein, a man in his early sixties. His father had taken over Shilsky's store in 1942, when the Rabbi had left town. He said that most Jews had eventually left Suffolk to make their lives elsewhere.

James spent the night in a motel in town, but woke in the middle of the night. Alone, he walked out to the river, where he experienced something of his grandmother's loneliness.