Ruth Westheimer promises she won’t talk about sexual satisfaction in her March 8 presentation at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy annual Connections brunch. Best known as “Dr. Ruth,” Westheimer is an American sex therapist, media personality, author, radio and television talk show host, and Holocaust survivor. “I never talk about that with mothers and daughters in the same room,” she told the AJP. Her advice instead will flow from the knowledge she shares in the most recent books she has penned. “The reason I am still successful is that I am explicit but careful.”
Karola Ruth Siegel was born in Germany in 1928, the only child of Orthodox Jews. Her father was taken by the Nazis a week after Kristallnacht. She was sent on a Kindertransport to an orphanage in Switzerland. Her father later died at Auschwitz and her mother was listed as “disappeared.”
Emigrating to pre-state Palestine at age 17, she joined the Haganah defense force. Because of her diminutive height — 4 feet 7 inches — she was a scout and sniper. She recalls hearing Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on the radio in Jerusalem in 1948 when he declared Israel as a state.
Westheimer studied and taught psychology in Paris before immigrating in 1956 to the United States, where she earned a master’s in sociology from The New School and a doctorate from the Teachers College at Columbia University in 1970. She became a naturalized American citizen in 1965 and regained her German citizenship in 2007.
A stint with Planned Parenthood sparked Westheimer’s interest in postdoctoral research for Helen Singer Kaplan at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where she worked while teaching at Lehman and Brooklyn colleges and Adelphi and Columbia universities and West Point.
Westheimer’s media career began in 1980 with a weekly 15-minute segment on New York’s WYNY radio, “Sexually Speaking,” so popular that it soon was syndicated nationwide as the “Dr. Ruth Show.” She became a household name and made television appearances on nearly every talk show, which she continues to do. She wrote 14 books in her early years — including the classic “Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Good Sex” — and has added another 33 since 2000.
“We cannot be more thrilled or more proud as a community to have such a well-known personality as our keynote speaker for Connections 2020,” says Karen Faitelson, co-chair of the Connections committee with Dana Goldstein. “Dr. Ruth is a role model to all who know of her and her work in both the Jewish and general community. Her dedication and leadership are both remarkable and inspirational. She is an icon, a shining beacon of light and a ray of hope in this often confusing and ever-changing world.”
Westheimer is proud that “Heavenly Sex: Sexuality and the Jewish Tradition,” written with Jonathan Mark and first printed in 1996, has just gone into its fourth printing with New York University Press. “It’s now a classic … so it will never be out of print,” she says. But a book she will focus upon in Tucson is “Crocodile, You’re Beautiful! Embracing Our Strengths and Ourselves.”
“A crocodile has to feel good in its own skin and an ant must feel good to be an ant. If it cooperates it will build bridges. The book lends itself to different generations,” she says.
“Leopold” provides lessons for parents and children. “It’s about a turtle. To continue it has to take a risk and stick its neck out. I took that risk when I talked about sex,” she says. “Rollercoaster Grandma: The Amazing Story of Dr. Ruth” addresses her life story. “I talk about the Nazis taking my father but it’s not scary. It uses humor. The Talmud says a lesson taught with humor is a lesson retained.” In it, she also recounts a trip with her grandchildren to an amusement park. “They had to measure to see who was tall enough to go on the ride and I was too short,” she says with a girlish laugh.
Today, Westheimer worries about the art of conversation getting lost and about loneliness, especially for millennials. “They are always on the phone, looking down and having problems with their neck.” She recently updated “Sex for Dummies” with four new chapters for millennials.
Westheimer recommends audience members preview “Ask Dr. Ruth: Size Doesn’t Matter,” a recently released documentary now streaming on Hulu, exploring her contributions to the sexual revolution through humorous and candid advice.
With many honorary degrees from American universities, Westheimer will receive her first from Ben-Gurion University in May. “I will waltz in with a $100,000 scholarship endowment for psychology, not sex therapy,” she says, “And I promise good sex for life for anyone who donates. It’s already going really well,” she says of the fundraising effort.
The Connections brunch, Sunday, March 8 at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, begins at 10 a.m. Westheimer’s talk will be followed by questions and answers and a book signing. Books will be available for purchase at the event or attendees may bring their own copies. The event cost is $45, plus a minimum $180 tax-deductible pledge ($18 for students) to the 2020 Federation Community Campaign. Reservations are required at www.jfsa.ticketspice.com/connections-2020 or by calling Anel Pro at 647-8455.