Dr. Ruth Westheimer recently appeared at the Conservative Synagogue of Riverdale’s screening of Extraordinary Women, a documentary about her life.
Dr. Ruth, who is a member of the synagogue and whose daughter works for the Riverdale YM-YWHA, is known for frank discussions of sex. But how did an orthodox Jewish girl from a middle class family in Frankfort become an international sex figure?
Her parents were Orthodox Jews. Dr. Ruth remembers an idylic childhood that suddenly changed when Hitler took power in 1933. In 1938, she was sent with the “Kindertransport” (transport of children) to neutral Switzerland, where she spent the duration of the war.
She then went to pre-state Palestine, according to the talk, where she experienced an awakening to the joy of sex.
The Jewish emissaries from Palestine were so cute and good looking, Dr. Ruth said, that she believed they used sex appeal to draw Jewish refugees to Palestine instead of to countries like the United States.
In Palestine, Dr. Ruth, an ardent Zionist, was placed in a kibbutz. It was there that she lost her virginity, she said.
It was only decades later, after working social services and studying sociology at New York University, that she became a professional sexologist.
She remembers her parents waiving goodbye at the train station as the last time she ever saw them. Her parents wrote her letters from occupied Lodz, in Poland, telling her to have trust in God.
The letters stopped coming in 1941, when they died either in the ghetto or in a death camp, she said. Dr. Ruth, then in her teens, only learned of the Holocaust when a group of Jewish children released from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were sent to her camp.
Dr. Ruth sees no conflict between religion and explicit sexuality.
Judaism, she says, does not view sex as dirty but rather as a mitzvah (positive act). She says that every Sabbath night, religious Jews sing a peon of praise to the lady of the house. Such appreciation of the unique role of the woman, Dr. Ruth says, is one of the most sexual gestures around.
Pointing to her grandchildren in the audience she beamed with pride.
“Hitler lost and we won,” she said.