The lecture hall was packed to capacity for the spry 90-year-old's appearance, with some people being turned away.
Dr. Ruth escaped death during the Holocaust, and was placed on a “kindertransport” that took her to a Swiss orphanage. Valuing education, she studied in secrecy, since only boys received schooling. After the Holocaust, she worked on an Israeli kibbutz and trained as a sniper.
She would continue to pursue her studies, and taught psychology at the University of Paris in 1950. In 1956, she started a new home in Washington Heights, and became a U.S. citizen in 1965. She earned a degree in sociology at The New School and another degree from Teachers College.
Her book, “The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre,” co-authored with Pierre A. Lehu, shares how she learned to master living life to the fullest despite challenges, tragedy, and loss.
Another book in the works, “Roller-Coaster Grandma: The Amazing Story of Dr. Ruth” with illustrations by Mark Simmons, is a graphic novel aimed at pre-teen and teen readers that offers a biographical journey of Dr. Ruth and her grandchildren through an amusement park.
In Forest Hills, Dr. Ruth shared vivid accounts of her life. She was an only child of Orthodox parents, and praised the early socialization of a child at home, citing a grandmother who had nothing else to do but take care of her.
After Kristallnacht, the Nazis came to her family's Frankfurt apartment.
“There was no hitting or shouting, but they took my father,” she said. “I remember my grandmother having a long skirt, and in the seam she had some money, and she gave it to the Nazis and said to take good care of my son. Then my father went out in the street.
“I looked out the window,” she continued. “I could see a truck, but couldn’t see what was in it because it was covered, but I did see my father turning around, and smiling because he saw me. That was the last I ever saw of my father.”
He was taken to a labor camp, and a card came stating that the young Ruth had to join the group of children going to Switzerland so that he could come home.
“I did not want to leave, but I had no choice,” she said. “My mother and grandmother brought me to the railroad station, and I did what my father did. I wanted to cry, but I remembered that my father was smiling, so I smiled.
“I had one doll with me,” she added. “There was a little girl in the same group to Switzerland, and she was crying. I felt that she needed the doll more than me, and gave it to her.”
She would receive letters from her parents until 1941. In 1945, she learned that they were killed, likely in Auschwitz. Dr. Ruth has a message for Holocaust deniers.
“My obligation is to stand up and be counted,” she said. “Some people have Holocaust fatigue, and they may say ‘enough already!’ I have to talk about it, so that those people who deny it or have fatigue are going to be quiet.”
Switching gears, she also focused on her successful career as a sex therapist. Her radio show “Sexually Speaking” debuted on WYNY in 1980, and “The Dr. Ruth Show” landed on the Lifetime channel in 1985.
“I did it for 10 years from 10 to 12 on Sunday nights, which was a wonderful time slot,” she said. “People came from the Catskills or the Hamptons. By 12 they were home and sexually aroused.”
Dr. Ruth said much of the advice she gave decades ago is still relevant today.
Many of those questions are the same,” she said. “In those days, nobody knew about AIDS. I said how careful you have to be, which I am still saying today.”
She said for her it was an easy task to speak about sex in public.
“I’m very Jewish, I have chutzpah,” Dr. Ruth said. “In the Jewish tradition, sex has never been a sin. It always has been an obligation of a husband and wife.”
She advised millennials to stay tuned.
“I am going to do a brand new television show,” she said. “I’m 90 years old and my co-star is 31. We’re going to be relevant for relationship and sexual questions.”
She also offered advice for young couples.
“For those people who have found a significant other, do get married,” she said. “Don’t hang out there and think that something better is going to come up.”