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Claim: Sexpert Dr. Ruth Westheimer served as a sniper in Israel.
Origins: Diminutive Dr. Ruth Westheimer (4'7") is the nation's most well-known sex
doctor. Though you wouldn't suspect it from the grandmotherly appearance of "Dr. Ruth,"
this psychosexual therapist has been dispensing frank sex advice since 1980. (Across that span of time, she says the language in which queries are phrased has become more explicit, but the questions themselves have remained the same.)
The odd juxtaposition of her appearance and professional calling is not the only surprise to Dr. Ruth: there is also the small matter of her having trained in her youth as a sniper with the Israeli Defense Force.
The future Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel in Germany in 1928, the only child of an Orthodox Jewish couple. In 1939, after young Karola's father had been taken by the Nazis, her mother and grandmother sent her to Switzerland to get her out of harm's way. She did not see her family again, as her mother and grandmother died in the Holocaust.
16, the orphaned girl moved to Israel and joined Haganah, an underground Jewish military organization. She served as a lookout and trained as a
sniper, but she avers that she never killed (or presumably shot) anyone. Said Dr. Ruth of that interval in her life:
When I was in my routine training for the Israeli army as a teenager, they discovered completely by chance that I was a lethal sniper. I could hit the target smack in the center further away than anyone could believe. Not just that, even though I was tiny and not even much of an athlete, I was incredibly accurate throwing hand grenades too. Even today I can load a Sten automatic rifle in a single minute, blindfolded."
Her military career was cut short when she was seriously injured:
My legs were almost ripped off on my 20th birthday in 1948 in Jerusalem from cannon ball shrapnel which exploded in the student's residence where I was living. Three other students were killed instantly and many more were wounded. The metal pierced both my legs, and there was blood everywhere. A cannon ball from Jordan had smashed through the window. I was thrown 20 feet. The strangest thing was that all I could think about was whether there might be some blood on the brand-new shoes I had just gotten for my birthday, and amazingly there wasn't even a drop on them, which was all I cared about in some kind of strange denial.
Ruth later moved to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne and taught kindergarten, then immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 and obtained a Master's degree in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Education from Columbia University. A job with Planned Parenthood spurred her to study human sexuality.
Barbara "footloose" Mikkelson
Last updated: 1 March 2007
Lu, Adrienne. "Dr. Ruth Draws a Crowd in Fort Lee."
The [Bergen County] Record. 3 December 2004 (p. L8).
Petrocelli, Michael. "Dr. Ruth to Speak on Sex, Her Jewish Roots at Duke."
The [Durham] Herald-Sun. 9 April 2004 (p. B1).
Sheridan, Patricia. "Dr. Ruth."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 30 September 2002 (p. C2).
Westheimer, Ruth K. and Ben Yagoda. All in a Lifetime: An Autobiography.
New York: Warner Books, 2001. ISBN 0-446-67761-2.
The New York Post. "Dr. Ruth, Israel's Lethal Weapon."