Sex therapist Ruth had her sights set on saving Israel

By Jason Stein

THERE can't be many sex therapists who have been kissed on the cheek by two American presidents - Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

But Dr Ruth Westheimer isn't any ordinary sex therapist.

However, the legendary 85-year-old German-American media personality won't reveal if she ever offered bedroom advice to Clinton or Obama.

"That is confidential, but I will tell you that after (Israeli president) Shimon Peres kissed me, I considered never washing my face again," Dr Ruth exclaimed.

Yet if her affection for President Peres is jovial, her love and devotion to Israel is not.

Born Karola Ruth Siegel in Frankfurt in 1928, she was sent to Switzerland in 1939 by her mother Irma after her father Julius was arrested by the Nazis in the week following Kristallnacht.

It was her determination to honour the memory of her parents, who were killed in the Holocaust, that saw her train as a sniper in the Hagana (the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces) and fight for Israel in the War of Independence.

"I had a very fulfilling childhood and my parents lavished me with love," Dr Ruth told me.

"My father took me to shul every week and instilled a huge work ethic in me.

"He made me study very hard and sent me to a good Jewish school, even though it was quite far away. He wanted me to receive a good education."

Her memories of her father being arrested are harrowing.

"My father was taken by Nazis who, very calmly, in their black uniforms, took him away," she recalled.

"I remember my grandmother actually giving the guards some money for them to take care of him.

"And that was it, he stepped on to this truck, smiled and waved at me. I never saw him again.

"It was the same when my mother and grandmother took me to the station to send me away.

"My grandmother ran all the way along the platform waving. I never saw her again either."

That the young Dr Ruth was sent to Switzerland, and not anywhere else in Europe, is a miracle in itself, she said.

"One of the statistics," is her dry response when asked what would have happened had she been sent outside neutral Switzerland.

It was at the orphanage where she discovered her 'new family' and decided she needed to make an impact on the world.

"Because I was not a statistic - one of the children who died - I felt I had an obligation to do something good with my life," she explained.

"So I'm certainly no hero for fighting for Israel, it was my duty. And it was definitely my duty to protect Israel.

"If Israel had existed earlier, then I wouldn't be an orphan."

Dr Ruth proudly states that she never killed anyone in combat before an injury sustained during the War of Independence forced her to leave the armed services and unable to walk for months.

"I probably didn't realise what I was doing at first when I joined the army," she recalled. "It was just some group fighting for a land that was in danger.

"I certainly never knew I had the talent - accuracy and concentration - for it."

It seems strange to hear an internationally recognised sex therapist discuss the brutal intricacies of warfare, but in the context of what she calls her "ardent Zionism" it makes perfect sense.

"We must still defend the State of Israel," she declared. "It is the only place where I can still go every single year and feel completely safe.

"There is no question that Israel is losing some of its heart and Zionism - people take it for granted.

"And I am very concerned that there are fewer people alive who remember a world without Israel.

"I want peace, I want it to happen and I think Benjamin Netanyahu is trying."

Dr Ruth is a keen IDF fundraiser and a student of Israeli politics. She revealed that she is currently reading journalist Ari Shavit's new book My Promised Land.

Her first foray into the world of sex came with a move to Paris in 1950 to read psychology, before emigrating to America in 1956 to study at Colombia University.

"Basically, I needed a job," Dr Ruth admitted. "And I always had an interest in sex from an early age, ever since I read a book called The Ideal Marriage, by Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde.

"My parents had hidden it, but I eventually found it. My initial interest was in the study of family and psychology rather than sex.

"Anyway, in Judaism, sex has never been fun, but an obligation."

In January 2009, Playboy named Dr Ruth as the 13th most important person in sex since the Second World War.

She has dined with Sir Paul McCartney, been named one of the most influential Jews in the world on many authoritative lists and even visited Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace, where she says she was charmed by the Duke of Edinburgh.

And a play about her life, Becoming Dr Ruth, debuted off Broadway in October.

But what compels Dr Ruth, at 85, to continue working?

"I use this term every day: re-wire, don't retire," she replied. "I still lecture to 23 students at Colombia.

"The question I get the most is 'How do I spice things up in the bedroom?'

"I tell people that they cannot take sex for granted, that a couple must work at the relationship.

"A strong sex drive is not routine and couples should try new things and then call me the next day to discuss how it went.

"This way they can learn something and think about what they are doing.

"Couples must be urged to be more adventurous and try new things."

Dr Ruth is a huge proponent of relationships.

"I firmly believe in them," she continued. "I tell my students not to try things with a random person they meet in a bar, but in a healthy relationship.

"First and foremost, I am concerned with people having a good life and a good life means enjoying a healthy sex life.

"Most of the main questions I get are not specifically about sex, but about relationships."

Dr Ruth claims many of her teachings are backed up by the Torah. And she regularly counsels ultra-Orthodox couples.

"I advise many things that are straight from the Jewish position on issues," she said.

"A man is obligated to provide sexual satisfaction for his wife and we are talking about sex in the marriage, after all."

When asked if one can fully discuss the nature of sex with a rabbi, Dr Ruth's response was incredulous.

"Of course you can!" she laughed. "A rabbi will agree that one of his main obligations is to make peace in the home.

"What is peace in the home helped by? Good sex.

"All couples need a good sex life to have peace in the home - even rabbis agree with me on this."

She may find out how our Chief Rabbi feels about this when she meets Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at a conference in America next week.

However, she admitted there are times when an Orthodox couple are best served by someone other than her.

"I will often send them to a neurologist or, perhaps, if I think an ultra-Orthodox sex therapist knows as much as me, then I will recommend they go there instead," Dr Ruth argued.

According to Dr Ruth, Judaism is one of the better religions at dealing with sex.

"Many religions don't breach the subject whatsoever," she disclosed. "But in Judaism it is very much accepted and I hope it remains in that tradition.

"We have also come a very long way in terms of how women are treated in Judaism.

"The fact that in our religion, I can give advice to an Orthodox couple is really something."

Dr Ruth, who speaks English, German, French and Hebrew fluently, is very vocal about sex, but she won't discuss Jewish politics.

"I don't enter discussions about the rights and wrongs of circumcision on a political level because, quite frankly, I'm not a medic," she said.

"However, what is important is to properly teach the next generation about sex.

"Girls and boys must understand the nuances of sex so they respect one another."

© 2014 Jewish Telegraph