How a Jewish grandmother forever changed America's ideas of sexual education and literacy.
In 1991 Westheimer donned the title of "executive producer" for a documentary on Ethiopian Jews entitled Surviving Salvation. Her second PBS documentary, entitled No Missing Link, described how grandparents transmitted values, particularly religious values, during the seventy years of communism in Russia.
In 1994 Westheimer entered cyberspace with Dr. Ruth's Encyclopedia of Sex on CD-ROM. Two hundred and fifty entries deal straightforwardly with all areas of sex and sexuality. Westheimer followed it up with Sex for Dummies, in the famous series of how-to manuals.
She told USA Today that her first reaction to the idea of the book was negative. "When they approached me, I said, 'Absolutely no, I do not talk to dummies. I talk to intelligent people.'" She changed her mind, however, when she recognized the irony of the titles and their disarming appeal to a wide segment of the population. "And then I said, hold it, if I can prevent one unintended pregnancy, one person from getting AIDS, one person from getting a sexually transmitted disease, it will be worth it."
Overcoming All Obstacles
This determinedly optimistic, affirmative, and wholesome approach leaves Westheimer open to criticism and satire. It is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit that someone who was exposed to the horrors of humanity and experienced great sorrow at an early age is able to look away from the darkness and toward the light.
As she told a Reuters interviewer at the 1995 Frankfurt Book Fair, "I was kicked out in 1939 by being placed on a train right here in Frankfurt.... I never saw my parents again. Every time I am sad I just have to think about my five-year-old grandson. Hitler didn't want me to have that grandson. I put the picture of my grandson in my mind and say--You see, we did triumph. So I do therapy on myself."
In May of 2000 Westheimer received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion for her work in human sexuality and her commitment to the Jewish people, Israel and religion. In 2001 she received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the Leo Baeck Medal, and in 2004, she received the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, from Trinity College. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an Associate Fellow of Calhoun College at Yale University. Ruth Westheimer is the president of the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) of Washington Heights.
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