June 2021MAIN STORY

1000 Words: Becoming Dr. Ruth

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By Deborah Vietor

You are cordially invited on a voyage expertly directed by Artistic Director David Ellenstein presented by the North Coast Repertory Theatre and written by playwright Mark St. Germain.

Often fraught with sadness, tragedy and loss, the journey educates, elevates and illustrates strength, intelligence, faith and humor. Tovah Feldshuh elegantly transforms into Dr. Ruth Westheimer, renowned sex educator and therapist, chronicling her extraordinary and unconventional life for Becoming Dr. Ruth. She creates an uncanny resemblance both physically and in her speech, which is a combination of German, Swiss, French, Hebrew and English dialect.

First stop? Frankfurt 1939 during Hitler’s Nazi regime as Karola Siegel, raised as a German Orthodox Jew. She is told by her parents to always remember she is loved and to believe in the almighty G-d. At the age of 10, she is selected as one of the 300 children from all of Germany to ride the KinderTransport to an orphanage in Switzerland.

Second stop? Jerusalem in 1945 where Karola changes her name to Ruth, using her Hebrew middle name, as Karola sounded too German and according to her book, All in a Lifetime, the Zionists wanted nothing to do with the Germans. She believed this would make it easier for her parents to find her. She is transported to a Kibbutz with some freedoms, but no personal possessions — save some photos and a child’s washcloth she took from home.

According to her book, the last letter she received from her parents was September of 1941. She stated that her parents never found her as they were exterminated at Auschwitz.

Third stop? France, 1950, where she entered the Institute of Psychology at La Sorbonne. She then became the Director of a Jewish kindergarten. One of her professors was the famous psychiatrist Lagache and the psychologist Piaget who were both quite nice to her.

Fourth Stop? In 1956, emigrating to the United States, with her soon-to-be second husband, settling in Manhattan and earning an M.A. degree in sociology from the New School in 1959 and a Doctor of Education from Columbia University in 1970, qualifying for the Kappa Delta Pi honor society and the dean’s list. Dr. Ruth has taught at many colleges over the years and even gave a lecture at Princeton where her son attended.

Fifth stop? With a media career beginning in 1980, she became a sex educator with her own radio show for WYNY called Sexually Speaking, discussing topics covering everything from intimacy to contraception. She then did over 500 television shows for the Lifetime Cable Network from 1984 to 1993. So far, she has authored 45 books and has been a talk show guest many times on Johnny Carson and David Letterman.

The sixth stop? Well into her in her 80s, Dr. Ruth continued as a teaching professor, educating, enlightening and empowering people on a global level, including the LGBTQ community to fulfill and claim their own sexuality and fulfillment. Standing only 4’ 7”, she has become a giant in the lives of others.

The seventh stop truly epitomizes Becoming Dr. Ruth. Credited with taking sex out of the clinic and into the living room, recently she was quoted as saying, “Nobody has any business being naked in bed if they haven’t decided to have sex.”

Dr. Ruth has built close friendships over the years, and two of her three marriages produced two magnificent children, (Miriam and Joel), and four grandchildren. At 92, she is a legend in her own time and a wise advisor to everyone seeking advice regarding relationships, intimacy and sexuality.

Similarities between Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Tovah Feldshuh are many. Both changed their names, (Tovah, meaning “Good” in Hebrew was originally Terri Sue). Both hold a loyalty and passion for Judaism and family, with each having achieved highly successful careers. Each have had happy marriages with 2 children and several grandchildren. Both women are dedicated to excellence. In Feldshuh’s family, if it wasn’t an “A,” it was an “F” and in Ruth’s family, her father stressed not only the importance of learning, but the maxim that “no one should ever stop learning.” Above all, both women deeply prize the gift of life. They don’t take a single moment for granted. Each has received multiple accolades and awards over the years for achievements in their respective fields, and authored books. Each of them are an indescribable force of life!

Both women serve as an inspiration for generations to come, living as mensches, achieving their dreams through perseverance, overcoming life’s obstacles with humor, determination and compassion.

As a Child, Feldshuh looked at herself in the mirror and asked, “Are you real?” Do you really exist?” Wondering if her image was a dream or a mirage, she often performed for her parents in their living room. She dealt with the dichotomy of her mother’s silence and frequent criticism versus her father’s unconditional love and encouragement. As expressed in her first memoir, Lilyville: Mother, Daughter and Other Roles I’ve Played, her mother, Lily, lived until over 103. (Tovah is hoping to be 104!) This blessed longevity gave mother and daughter the time to bower the branches of their very different trees of life toward each other, resulting in true intimacy.

Lilyville was chosen as a “Must Read” by Good Morning America and was an Amazon Editor’s Pick for Best Biography and Memoir. See www.tovahfeldshuh.com/lilyville for more information on the hard-cover and audiobook.

Feldshuh graduated Sarah Lawrence University during the second wave of women’s liberation. Waitlisted at Harvard Law School, the same year she won the McKnight Fellowship in Acting to the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Tovah rode the horse “in the direction it was going”. She is a trained classical actress, and instead of becoming a Harvard lawyer, she married one – Andrew Harris Levy! They have been together 45 years.

When asked who most inspired her to be an actor, Feldshuh credited her father who was a trial attorney. Sidney Feldshuh encouraged his daughter to “reach for the stars so she could land on the roof. Reach for the roof? You’ll never get off the ground.” He trained her to take risks at a young age, teaching her to ride horses, coaching her in soccer, basketball and baseball. Later he advised her to “Never beg a man for a hat!” meaning that a woman needs to make her own living and have her own money. She follows that advice to this day.

A highly acclaimed actor, writer, singer, and natural chameleon, she infuses each role with a unique level of creativity, approaching everything with dedication, resilience, passion and a Joie de Vivre.

Six-time Tony and Emmy Award nominee, Feldshuh has stunned and inspired audiences for years, in roles depicting iconic Jewish women such as Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony, proudly donning a wig, fat suit, false legs and false nose. She starred in the LA premiere of Jonathan Shapiro’s Sisters-In-Law, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG), as well as her impressive Broadway-starring debut as Yentyl. She played dual roles in The Soap Myth, opposite Ed Asner as Holocaust denier Brenda Goodsen and Esther Feinman, Holocaust scholar. Additional stage, TV, film appearances and awards are too numerous to mention.

Becoming Dr. Ruth streams on Showtix4U.com on demand from June 9 to July 4. Runtime is 90 minutes and tickets can be purchased at northcoastrep.org.

North Coast Repertory Theatre is located in the Lomas Santa Fe Plaza at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr. Suite D, Solana Beach, 92075. Box Office: (858) 481-1055. www.northcoastrep.org for information regarding additional performances.

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