Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ruth Westheimer (But Were Afraid to Ask)
Renowned Actress Feldshuh Brings Sex Therapist’s Backstory to Life at Museum of Jewish Heritage
“Ruth doesn’t lead with her backstory,” actress Tovah Feldshuh (above) reflects about her friend, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. “She presents herself as an international sex therapist who is funny and witty and insightful, so everybody knows the mannerisms and the sound of her voice. But there is much, much more than that. Very few people know that, as a child, she barely escaped the Nazis, who murdered her entire family, or that she then fought in the Israeli Army, before coming to America.”
This backstory is central to the narrative arc of the one-woman show, “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” written by playwright Mark St. Germain, which begins previews at the Museum of Jewish Heritage this Saturday (December 4), then opens on December 16 and runs through January 2.
“I know Ruth very well,” Ms. Feldshuh says. “We first met many years ago. And because of her support for Israel and her strong Jewish identity, she has been watching my work since ‘Yentl,’” the acclaimed 1975 Broadway production of the play based on an Isaac Bashevis Singer story.
“We are close enough that she attended our daughter’s wedding, and I speak to her at least once each week,” Ms. Feldshuh says. “That relationship influences me as an artist, because it keeps me accurate for this role,” she adds, slipping into the unique accent—a clipped amalgam of German, Hebrew, and French, all with a slight Swiss inflection—that is instantly recognizable as Dr. Westheimer’s.
“She leaves me voicemail messages regularly,” Ms. Feldshuh relates, “which I never erase. Instead, I listen to them before every performance, right before I go on. This gives a shot of Ruth’s energy—a Westheimer booster.”
But Ms. Feldshuh insists that her performance is less about imitation than interpretation. “You have to get the accuracy, and make it effortless. But that mastery is only the beginning. This must be second nature by the time you are in front of an audience. Because the audience is not paying to see that. They are paying to be moved. As an actor, your job is to feel things as the character in a seamless relationship between you and this incredible person, so that the audience is transported and can see their own lives, as you are depicting the life of this great woman.”
The perspective Ms. Feldshuh discerns in her relentlessly upbeat subject is, “how can you complain about traffic or having bad wi-fi reception when you learn this woman’s story? She started out at ten years old, ripped away from her home, and the family she loved were all murdered in the Holocaust.”
“Look what she has made of her life,” Ms. Fedshuh continues. “She wrote her own script, she propelled her own progress. She lives the values of the Hebrew phrase, ‘Tikkun Olam,’ which means, ‘to repair world.’”
“Her way of doing that is to take sexual intimacy out of the darkness of the bedroom and bring it into the light of the living room,” Ms. Feldshuh observes. “If you’re making love and it’s not going well, the other person cannot be a mind reader. You have to have courage and not get confused with the old American puritanical principles of never discussing such things. Fortunately, in Judaism there is nothing shameful about sex—it’s a celebration of love, which is a very good thing. We don’t deal with original sin, or other aspects of what would be termed the evil of sexuality.”
Ms. Feldshuh notes that, “I’ve been very lucky; I’ve had this kind of opportunity three times. The first was when I played Golda Meir in ‘Golda’s Balcony,’” the 2003 Broadway production that chronicled the life of Israel’s fourth (and thus far, only female) Prime Minister. “The second was when I played Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in ‘Sisters in Law,’ which premiered right before the pandemic. And now, I am playing another transformative Jewish woman in ‘Becoming Dr. Ruth.’”
“As an actor you try to find cellular coincidence between yourself and the character you are playing,” she explains. “The overlap between me and Ruth is that we are both unbridled optimists, and that we both know happiness is a choice. We choose it, and sometimes you have to will it. It’s not like happiness comes to you.”
Tickets for “Becoming Dr. Ruth” are now on sale, starting at $59, at mjhnyc.org. The production has a runtime of 90 minutes with no intermission and will be performed in compliance with current New York State health and safety requirements for indoor performances. The show is being staged in the Museum’s newly renovated theater, located at 36 Battery Place, near First Place, which was recently the site of a hit production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
I heard the voices of sensitive humans from outer space. They spoke of living in awe of the beauty of a blue planet—Earth—hanging in the blackness of space. The uniqueness of Earth in the cosmos astounded them, charged them with emotion. They observed the Sun white in the great blackness, not as we know the shining orb seen through our blue atmosphere, the sky. Stars—viewed with no atmosphere between eye and star—are vivid, steady lights of different colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, white.
“Nothing could prepare me for the phenomenon of the fragile atmosphere. The thinness of the atmosphere: paper thin.”
Deep sea researcher-turned-astronaut Ron Garan and astro-physicist-astronaut John Grunsfeld related experiences that shaped their world view, perspectives gained during residencies on the International Space Station, 200 miles above Earth. (Check out this story and graphic that presents a fresh way of looking at the Earth’s atmosphere.) I was tuned in to a livestream of their discussion at the recent International Dark Sky Association’s “Under One Sky 2021” global conference.
NASA Astronaut Ron Garan, featured panelist, “Under One Sky”, International Dark-Sky Association 2021 Global Conference, November 13, 2021.
“We live on a planet,” Garan emphasized, returning to the once-ubiquitous moniker, Spaceship Earth. “There are no passengers, all Earthlings are crew mates on planet Earth.”
There is one biosphere for all. There are no boundaries. Our fate is totally interdependent with all life: our actions on land, water, sky are interconnected. Listen up! It is required of each of us to be guided by a planetary perspective.
NASA Astronaut John Mace Grunfield, featured panelist, “Under One Sky”, International Dark-Sky Association 2021 Global Conference, November 13, 2021.
Grunsfeld related that, seen from space at night, Earth’s lights are scars on the landscape. The amount of wasted electricity we expend to send light into space amounts to billions of dollars a year for inefficient, poorly designed lighting. He quipped that travelers from a faraway planet seeing the disastrous waste of light would conclude that “no intelligent life” exists on Earth. The astronauts urged that fighting light pollution is a “fight worth fighting.”
Downtown Districts Rank Among City’s Most Cacophonous
Lower Manhattan is home to a trio of the noisiest communities anywhere in the five boroughs of New York City, according to a recent analysis of the City’s Open Data platform researched by RentHop, an online listings database.
Three of these are located in Lower Manhattan: MN-25 is comprised of Battery Park City, Greenwich South, the Financial District, and the South Street Seaport; while MN-24 covers Tribeca, SoHo, Little Italy, and the Civic Center; and MN-27 is coterminous with Chinatown. To read more…
Will the Levee Keep Us Dry?
City Previews Plans for Augmented East River Shoreline as Bulwark Against Flooding
In online meetings hosted last Wednesday and Thursday by the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio shared preliminary ideas for its Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan, covering the mile-long stretch between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
The concepts reviewed at last week’s meetings include extending the shoreline of Manhattan between 60 and 200 feet into the East River, with a series of interlocking berms, platforms, and floodgates, all designed to hold back waters from climate change, sea-level rise, and extreme-weather events. To read more…
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Has Anybody Seen 11,000 Neighbors?
According to a new statistical analysis released by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Lower Manhattan’s population declined during the COVID-19 pandemic by more than that of any other community in the five boroughs, due to residents moving away.
The report, titled “The Pandemic’s Impact on NYC Migration Patterns,” quantifies this outflow by focusing on the “public use microdata area” (PUMA) demographic model used by the U.S. Census, which defines the community as “Battery Park City/Greenwich Village/Soho”—the combined catchments of Community Boards 1 and 2, or roughly the area below the Brooklyn Bridge on the East Side and south of 14th Street on the West Side, with those two boundaries connected by a north-south line that traces Fourth Avenue, Bowery, and Pearl Streets.
Using change of address filings submitted to the U.S. Postal Service, Mr. Stringer documents that out of every 1,000 residents, 130.9 people moved out of the Lower Manhattan PUMA during the pandemic. This translates into slightly less than a 14 percent reduction in the local population.
These results are especially stark when broken out by the eight residential zip codes within Community Board 1:
City Moves Forward with Plan to Make Sidewalk Dining Permanent, Despite Objections from Downtown Leaders
On Monday, the City Planning Commission moved toward making permanent the temporary measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed restaurants to take over sidewalk and street space for outdoor dining. The agency voted to enact a zoning text amendment (a change to the wording of the New York City Zoning Resolution) that will enable the Mayor and the City Council to formulate a program to perpetuate the expansion of restaurants into public space that was started, as a emergency stopgap, last year. This plan would have a particularly significant impact in Lower Manhattan (where narrow sidewalks and winding streets are the norm), which has sparked opposition among local elected officials. To read more…
Lower Manhattan Greenmarkets are open
Greenwich Street & Chambers Street
Every Wednesday & Saturday, 8am-3pm
Food Scrap Collection: Saturdays, 8am-1pm
Open Saturdays and Wednesdays year round
Schedule Changes: Market closed 12/25 for Christmas Day and 1/1 for New Year’s Day.
The loyal community of neighborhood residents who shop at the Tribeca Greenmarket show up each Wednesday and Saturday year-round to get their fix of locally grown produce, sustainably raised meat, seafood, sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt, orchard fruit and berries, herbs, live plants and cut flowers. Cooking demonstrations, raffles, and educational activities make the market a hands-on experience for shoppers of all ages.
American Pride Seafood Wild-caught fish and shellfish from Suffolk County, NY
Dipaola Turkeys Turkey and turkey products from Mercer County, NJ
Francesca’s Bakery Breads and baked goods from Passaic County, NJ
Hudson Valley Duck Farm Heritage breed ducks and duck products from Sullivan County, NY
Jersey Farm Produce Vegetables, herbs, orchard and small fruit from Hunterdon County, NJ
Lani’s Farm Vegetables, eggs and prepared foods from Burlington County, NJ
Millport Dairy Eggs, cheddar cheese, beef, pork, pickles and baked goods from Lancaster County, PA
Prospect Hill Orchards Fruit, some certified organic, granola, and baked goods from Ulster County, NY
Tucker Farms Cut Flowers from Burlington & Monmouth County, NJ
Westmeadow Farm cow and goat milk cheeses and cows butter from Montgomery County, NY
Yellow Bell Farm Chicken and eggs from Dutchess County, NY
Bowling Green Greenmarket
Green Greenmarket at Bowling Green
Broadway & Whitehall St
Open Tuesday and Thursdays, year-round
Market Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Compost Program: 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.
The Bowling Green Greenmarket brings fresh offerings from local farms to Lower Manhattan’s historic Bowling Green plaza. Twice a week year-round stop by to load up on the season’s freshest fruit, crisp vegetables, beautiful plants, and freshly baked loaves of bread, quiches, and pot pies.