I am not sure what is more remarkable—that Dr. Ruth Westheimer still has the passion and energy to be a non-stop, vocal supporter of Israel, or that a 92-year-old knows how to use Zoom so effectively to communicate her important messages.
Dr. Ruth, the world-famous sex therapist, Kindertransport survivor, and former IDF sniper, joined a webinar last Thursday, part of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ (FIDF) Engage web series. She spoke movingly about growing up in Frankfort, Germany as an only child to Orthodox parents (“wonderful childhood, very good school”). She reports that, in 1938, “The Nazis came to the apartment, picked up my father. My grandmother who lived with us took money from the seam of her skirt, gave the Nazi money, and said ‘take good care of my son.’ Dr. Ruth recalls that they put him in a truck. On the way, he turned around, mustered a smile and waved. “That’s the last I saw of my father HOWEVER, because of that, my life was saved. He went to a labor camp and sent a message that I had to go to Switzerland…by the Kindertransport.”
I was privileged to hear Dr. Ruth speak about her Kindertransport experience in 2009 at Yale University’s Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, at the opening of “Orphans of the Holocaust,” and the opening event of the Yom Hashoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration. At the time, Westheimer was co-teaching a course on “The Family and the Jewish Tradition” at Yale with the university’s (then) Jewish chaplain, Rabbi James Ponet. I was able to briefly interview the amazing Dr. Ruth at the end of her talk and write about it for the Jewish Ledger.
Dr. Ruth addressed many of her comments to young Israeli soldiers who might be listening. “For the IDF, what is important for all these young people to know, is that England took in 10,000. If I had been in Holland Belgium or France, I wouldn’t be alive.” She spoke of a longitudinal study she conducted of the children who were in the orphanage with her. “They all made it. None committed suicide or became clinically depressed BECAUSE the early years of their lives were in an intact family with parents and grandparents and that helped them to survive. We have to teach children that anything you do, is going to bear fruits.” She immediately shifted to speak about her own grandchildren “I have four—mine are the best! My grandson gave $1000 today to the FIDF in my honor!”
Much of the webinar focused on Dr. Ruth’s love and support of Israel and her service in the Haganah, the precursor to the IDF. “From age 10 in Switzerland, I was an ardent Zionist. I have been saying since then that Jews need a country of their own. If there was a State (then), things would have been different. There was no place for someone like me to go.” Dr. Ruth playfully attributes her going to Israel to the handsome shlichim (emissaries) sent to teach the orphan children about Palestine. “I decided I needed to go, to build a country. I never thought I wouldn’t live there my whole life there…”
During her service in the Haganah, the main paramilitary organization of the Jewish population in Mandatory Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948, Dr. Ruth was an expert sniper and grenade thrower. She served from 1945-1948, reports that she “never killed anyone,” and reported that on her 20th birthday in 1948, her legs were severely injured due to a bombing. She went back in to a building to get a reading book and was injured—the two women next to her were killed.
Dr. Ruth’s love and support of Israel were inspiring. But she is perhaps best known for her long-running program years ago “Sexually Speaking.” Just as she has transitioned to Zoom, she has adapted to Twitter; she has over 98,000 followers on Twitter @AskDrRuth.
Dr. Ruth connected her love for Israel and her professional work when she playfully remarked, “Anybody who serves in the IDF, I can promise them, once they are finished, they will have good sex for the rest of their life.” Dr. Ruth turned 92 this June. We need her positivity, sense of humor, and love for Israel ad meah v’esrim—until at LEAST 120!