SOLD OUT! Opening Night of the 38th Annual Neuberger Holocaust Education Week
ASK DR. RUTH: From Refugee to Celebrity Sex Therapist
Dr. Ruth Westheimer is well-known as a pioneering sex therapist, hosting a popular call-in radio show in the 1980s (as a gen Xer, I remember it well). Tonight she uncovered several layers of her personal story; and her life story is indeed an incredible personal narrative to be shared.
Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt, Germany in 1928. She was an only child brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family. She witnessed her father’s arrest by the Gestapo and Kristallnacht at age 10. She was sent to a school in Switzerland with the Kindertransport shortly afterwards, which became an orphanage for German Jewish youth. While Dr. Ruth survived, her entire family was murdered, likely in Auschwitz. While living in the orphanage she was trained to become a Swiss house maid. During this period she faced the reality that Germany was no longer her home and became an ardent Zionist, yearning for a Jewish homeland. At 17, she went to Israel where she fought in the Haganah as a sniper and was wounded; she later moved to Paris, studied at the Sorbonne, and eventually immigrated to the US in 1956, where she furthered her education, completed her doctorate, and discovered a passion for sexual education.
Her subsequent career as a psychosexual therapist and noted radio program, “Sexually Speaking,” grew into a multimedia sensation, spanning the globe and media platforms. Dr. Ruth is the recipient of numerous awards and an honorary doctorate from HUC. At 90, she is busy as ever, currently teaching at her alma mater of Columbia University’s Teachers College as well as at Hunter College and with her recently-released graphic novel, Roller Coaster Grandma: The Amazing Story of Dr. Ruth. Currently, she is working on a biographical play as well as feature documentary of her life story.
The Opening Night of HEW Neurberger Holocaust Centre was generously co-sponsored by the Rifkind and Mansell families and by the German Consulate General of Toronto.
This has been a very difficult week for all of us. This evening gave us an opportunity to look at some enormously dark chapters in our history through the bright eyes of a brilliant, inspiring, tiny woman.
I was fortunate to be amongst the attentive all-ages audience, hosted by The Neuberger for an intimate, insightful and at times entertaining conversation with Dr. Ruth. The renowned Canadian Yiddishist Michael Wex served as the moderator; however the audience soon discovered that Dr. Ruth has a unique voice, a colourful narrative and most definitely puts forth a commanding one woman show.
My Pearls of Wisdom gleaned from this captivating evening:
- Do not judge a book by its cover. Dr. Ruth is a tiny woman, yet she is powerful and feisty.
- Age is just a number. Age is a state of mind. Dr. Ruth gives 90 a very good appeal.
- Let’s listen to our elders including our parents and grandparents; they have a lot to teach us.
- The gift of gab is truly a wonderful gift, and a knack for speaking several languages is remarkable. Dr. Ruth speaks English, German, French, and Hebrew with clarity and fluency. And the audience listens.
- Humour is a wonderful tool that often helps ease difficult subject matter. Dr. Ruth has an entertaining style of laughing at herself–her thick German accent, and most noticeably, her height.
- We are each unique; and yet, we more the same than we are different. Dr. Ruth’s personal narrative clearly articulates so much of the human condition: love, passion, family and resilience.
- The immigrant Jewish story is familiar to most of us. Dr. Ruth has a story that includes the ups and down and many twists and resonates deeply with us all.
Dr. Ruth has a multitude of skills and talents, here’s a lesser known fact: she is a black diamond skier. She retains her middle initial K (Karola) to “remain somewhat anchored in my past”. And she is proud of all of her accomplishments, including of course her four grandchildren.
Her advice to the younger generations: Stand-up and be counted. Be vigilant. We have an obligation to educate about anti-Semitism, anti-gay, or anti-anything.
This evening exceeded my expectations and fuelled my passion for sharing wisdom harvested from inspiring life stories. And who knew, Dr. Ruth could provide valued sex tips to a recital hall filled with members of the Toronto Jewish community participating in the opening event of Neuberger Holocaust Education Week.