Last week, I was invited to the Center for Jewish History in Union Square for an evening of music and discussion organized by the Leo Baeck Institute and Germany Close Up.
The guest of honor for the event was none other than Dr. Ruth Westheimer, famous of her candid sense of humor about all things related to sex. I've heard Dr. Ruth speak before and have always found her brilliantly entertaining and down-to-earth. What I didn't know about her, is that she is a Holocaust survivor. Born Karola Ruth Siegel in Wiesenfeld, Germany, she was the only child to Orthodox Jewish parents. She lived with her parents and grandmother in Frankfurt, Germany until January 1939, when she was sent to Switzerland after her father was taken by the Nazis. Dr. Ruth explained to us that she was one of 10,000 children selected to be sent to neighboring countries for an intended period of six months during the beginning of the war. Fortunately, she was sent to an orphanage in Switzerland, where she ultimately lived for the next six years. If she had been sent to France, she would have had no chance of surviving the war.
At age 16, Dr. Ruth went to Israel where she was trained as a sniper as a member of the Haganah. Injured after only a short period of time, she moved to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 when she obtained her Masters degree in Sociology from the New School and her Ph.D. in Education from Columbia University. She got her start in human sexuality studying under Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan at New York Hospital Cornell University Medical Center. The rest, so to speak, is history.
Dr. Ruth, truly a pioneer in "sexual literacy," has authored 22 books, and aired on radio and television. She recounted a story when Diane Sawyer interviewed her for Good Morning America in her apartment near the Palisades. Diane Sawyer asked Dr. Ruth's husband, Fred, "So, are you benefiting from your wife's studies?" To which, Fred quickly replied, "Let's just say, the shoemaker's kids don't have any shoes." Dr. Ruth let out a little chuckle after telling the story. Her warm, sincere, and slightly off-beat personality engaged the crowd that night, including myself—having learned that Dr. Ruth escaped the perils of the Holocaust made me admire her even more. And at the end, she encouraged all of us and our generation to learn and achieve for our parents and our grandparents.
The Leo Baech Institute is devoted to studying the history of German-speaking Jewry from its origins to its tragic destruction by the Nazis and to preserving its culture. To learn more about the Leo Baeck Institute, go to http://www.lbi.org/. The Institute hosts various lectures and exhibitions in Washington, DC and New York, NY.