Who's America's most famous sex therapist? That tiny, cute, audacious, irreverent sex therapist, Dr. Ruth. She is now 84 years old.
"Becoming Dr. Ruth" will be a new off-Broadway show, based on the life of Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer. Previews begin on Oct. 11,2013, and stars Debra Jo Rupp.
Few know the incredible journey that preceded her. From fleeing the Nazis in the Kindertransport and joining the Haganah in Jerusalem as a scout and sniper, to her struggles to succeed as a "eyntsik" (single) mother coming to America.
Dr. Ruth was born on June 4, 1928, in Frankfort, Germany. Her birth name was Karola Ruth Siegel. She grew up the only child in a privileged Orthodox Jewish family.
Her mother, Irma Geburt Siegel, was a cattle rancher's daughter.
Her father, Julius Siegel, was a prosperous notions wholesaler.
Her loving grandmother spoiled her.
Dr. Ruth's carefree childhood was cut short when the Nazis came to power
Ruth was sent to the protection of a Swiss school, which eventually evolved into an orphanage for Jewish refugee girls. She never saw her family again. She believes they perished in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Dr. Ruth was treated like a second class citizen at school. She worked as a maid for the Swiss Jewish girls.
After the war, Dr. Ruth emigrated with some friends to Israel, then Palestine, and became a Zionist. She changed her first name to Ruth and joined the Haganah, the Jewish underground movement.
On May 14, 1948, Israel declared her Independence and on June 4, Ruth's birthday, she was wounded when a "bombe" (bomb) exploded outside the kibbutz where she lived, taking off the top of one of her feet. Her recovery was long and slow.
Dr. Ruth is four-feet-seven-inches. She frequently worried that she would never get married ("khasene gehat"). She thought she was short and ugly. In 1950, an Israeli "soldat" (soldier) from her kibbutz proposed marriage and she accepted. The two moved to Paris, where Ruth studied "psikhologye" (psychology) at the Sorbonne. Her husband studied "meditsin" (medicine). The marriage ended after 5 years and her husband went back to Israel.
Upon receiving a restitution check for approximately $1,500 from the West German government, Ruth left the Sorbonne and sailed with her French boyfriend to New York. She had a scholarship to the New School for Social Research.
Once in New York, Ruth gave birth to a baby girl, Miriam. She divorced the Frenchman (whom she had married to legalize the pregnancy.)
She worked as a housemaid to support her daughter while attending English lessons and evening school at the New School. In 1959, she graduated with a Master's degree in Sociology, and went to work as a research assistant at Columbia University.
"nartlen zikh" (to ski)
While on a ski trip in the Catskills Mountains, she met her husband-to-be, Manfred Westheimer. Nine months later they were married. Ruth became an American citizen.
In the late 1960s, Ruth took a job at Planned Parenthood in Harlem.
In the early 1970s, Ruth became an associate professor of sex counseling at Lehman College in the Bronx. Upon moving to Brooklyn College and promptly fired, she told People magazine, "It made me feel as I did when I got kicked out of Germany. Angry, helpless, rejected."
Radio Station WYNY-FM offered Dr. Ruth $25 dollars a week to make "Sexually Speaking," a 15-minute show every Sunday. The show as an immediate success. The program was expanded to one hour and allowed callers to ask their personal questions. By the "zumer" (summer) of 1983, Sexually Speaking was attracting a quarter of a million listeners weekly. By 1984, the show as syndicated nationally.
Dr. Ruth eventually expanded her influence to newspaper columns, a column in Playgirl magazine, and the Lifetime Cable TV series, "The Dr. Ruth Show."
Dr. Ruth has published many books including "Sex For Dummies. (FYI: The Yiddish word for dumb is "narish" or "dumkop" (dumbbell). Her autobiography is titled, "All in a Lifetime."
Her introduction to sex was from a book called "The Ideal Marriage" by Theodor Hendrik van de Velde. Her parents had it hidden in a bookcase, but she found it. "Danken Got!" (Thank God!)
Dr. Ruth lives in Washington Heights, New York. She has a private practice.
When Diane Sawyer interviewed Dr. Ruth at her apartment for "60 Minutes," she asked her husband, Fred, about their sex life. He answered, "The shoemaker's children have no shoes."
Dr. Ruth says, "When I talk about sex it's not to shock...but to educate."
When Dr. Ruth interviewed Jerry Seinfeld in 1986, she asked him why he's single. She also asked, "Wouldn't your parents love you to be married?" His reply: "Stop hocking me with the marriage! STOP HOCKING ME!"
Dr. Ruth helped raise money at the Tom Ridge Homeland Security Awards.
Emcees for the evening, honoring Cantor Fitzgerald's Howard Lutnick, were auctioning off a romantic trip to the California Wine Country. When the bidding stalled at $3,000, Westheimer jumped onstage: "I will call you on the trip and offer sex counseling." She added, "The couple has to be committed, not just one of these casual relationships." The bidding jumped to $7,000, sold o BCC's Louis Scotto. (New York Post, 4/19/12)
Dr. Ruth is the author of "Dr. Ruth's Guide to College Life! The Savvy Student's Handbook." The book deals with touchy roommate situations, "der druk" (the stress) of returning home for the holidays, and, of course, there's a chapter on sex.
Dr. Ruth Wordheimer was a parody of her therapist role, in which she helps anxious readers and spellers overcome their fear of long words.
Dr. Ruth appeared in a commercial for the Honda Prelude, ending with "My advice to you is, ‘Get a Prelude.'"
Westheimer worked as a spokeswoman for Clairol Herbal Essences and body wash, depicting a comical side to her work as a sex therapist. The commercial usually featured a woman imagining that she was using the shampoo on her hair, apparently receiving some sexual charge from it.
In the Jan. 2009 issue of Playboy, Westheimer appears as #13 in the list of the 55 most important people in sex from the past 55 years.
Dr. Ruth speaks four languages: English, German, French and Hebrew.
During Fashion Week 2013, Dr. Ruth tripped over an umbrella ("shirum") stand and had her arm wrapped in a make-shift sling created from a French scarf.
"Part of my success is because I'm old fashioned." (quote)
"shisn" (to shoot)
"Yes, I was trained as a sniper in the Israeli armed forces. This was after the Holocaust. I was a very good shooter. I once went with my grandson to a country fair where you shoot a water pistol at a clown's mouth. We came home with twelve stuffed animals and a goldfish." (quote)
...the taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex...For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate...entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better." (quote)
"zayn andersh" (to differ)
"The soap operas do us a tremendous disservice because they show us different sexual experiences EVERY SINGLE EPISODE, with a highness of emotion and satisfaction, and nobody in real life can duplicate that. It doesn't work that way." (quote)
"The idea that fidelity between partners can be a powerful aphrodisiac holds true today, just as it did in medieval times." (quote)
"If you're healthy, educated, and willing to communicate, then you can have sex until age 99.
"goldena yoykh" (chicken soup/golden broth)
"The rebbetzin advises the brides that "chicken soup all the time is not very interesting." Nor is the same sexual diet. (quote from "Heavenly Sex - Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition" by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer & Jonathan Mark)
"Sex is not only for reproduction, but for recreation." (quote)
MARJORIE GOTTLIEB WOLFE agrees with the critics: "If height were measured in courage, determination, and hard work, this little lady [Dr. Ruth] would be ten feet tall."
More Majorie Wolfe
All Things Jewish
Jewish Communities of the World