Dr. Ruth Westheimer would like you to know that she is not 4’7” because she was badly wounded on her legs during the Israeli War of Independence.
“I would have been short anyway,” she laughs.
That’s right: Dr. Ruth, best known as America’s beloved sex therapist, was trained as a sniper and fought in the Haganah. She was injured on her 20th birthday when a shell exploded at her feet.
That and other aspects of her remarkable life are covered in “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” the one-woman play coming to the Herberger Theater Center Feb. 10-28. Jane Ridley stars in the show, which was written by Mark St. Germain.
At first, Westheimer wasn’t interested in a play about her life, but a short conversation with St. Germain convinced her, she says. He interviewed her, her two children and other people close to her to write the 90-minute show.
“I’ve seen it many times,” Westheimer says. “I’m sitting at the edge of my chair every time and I love it.”
Part of her initial hesitation was that “I would have to talk a little bit about things that I usually don’t talk about,” she says. She was born Karola Siegel in Germany on June 4, 1928. At the age of 10, she was sent to Switzerland as part of the Kindertransport that rescued Jewish children from the reach of the Nazis. Her parents died in a concentration camp.
After the war, she emigrated from Switzerland to pre-state Israel and joined the Haganah. In 1950, she left for Paris, where she studied and taught psychology. She came to the U.S. in 1956.
She began her media career in 1980 with a New York radio show, and today she is the author of more than two dozen books, including two published last year: “The Doctor is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life and Joie de Vivre” and a children’s book about turtles called “Leopold.”
“I’m 87, so I have to do two books a year instead of one,” she says.
Another thing she does yearly is visit Israel; she was there last month to receive an award in Jerusalem.
“I never, ever would have thought that in 2016 that we’d still have all of the problems,” she says. “I thought once the state was established, once the United Nations was established, I thought there would be peace.”
When she is home in New York City, Westheimer teaches a class on families and the media at the Columbia University Teachers College, and she still gets questions every day about sex.
“Wherever I go, even at the opera, I go to the bathroom and somebody asks me a question, which is fine” she says. “I’m very pleased that I’m still being asked.”
Although she is in favor of people using the Internet to meet a partner, she is a staunch opponent of modern hookup culture.
“I believe that the best sex is in a relationship. Anything that has to do with outside of a relationship is not in my vocabulary. Casual sex, I think it’s dangerous, it’s not satisfying.”
She says that after 35 years of advising people about their sex lives, the questions are the same, but people ask using more frank terminology than before.
“The questions have not changed, but the vocabulary has changed,” she says.
Judaism is a religion that has a lot to say about sex, and Westheimer even co-authored a book on the subject, “Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition,” with Jonathan Mark.
“It’s true for us Jews that sex has never been a sin, and the Talmud and the Jewish tradition has a lot of things to say about how important it is.
“On Friday nights, there’s a prayer said in the Jewish household, that a woman of valor, who can find? A husband says to his wife, ‘There are many wonderful women out there, but you are the very best.’ I don’t know of any sentence that would be more sexually arousing than that.”
What: ‘Becoming Dr. Ruth’
When: Feb. 10-28
Where: Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix
Contact: 602-252-8497 or herbergertheater.org