July 13, 2024
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Tova Feldshuh Delights in ‘Becoming Dr. Ruth’

There are still a few days left to the limited engagement of “Becoming Dr. Ruth,’’ now playing at the Edmond Safra Hall of the Museum of Jewish Heritage through January 2. This incredible one-woman show delights the audience with non-stop, irrepressible wit, charm and action by one of the most talented current theater actresses portraying one of the foremost nonagenarians alive today. In 90 uninterrupted minutes, Tovah Feldshuh brilliantly portrays Dr. Ruth Westheimer from her early years losing her family and fleeing solo from Nazi Germany and her life as a lonely orphan in Switzerland, to her service as a barely 5-foot sharpshooter in the Israeli Army and her spiraling career in America as a renowned therapist broadcast throughout the world.

The opportunity to see two formidable women come together in one performance is indeed a unique treat. Tovah Feldshuh, now 68, has portrayed female heroines including Golda Meir and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to perfection. When only in her 40s, she was able to capture the uniqueness of the first and only female leader of the Israeli nation during her darkest hour. In portraying Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she captured the brilliance and strength of this formidable woman who has inspired so many young women to aspire to the heights despite bumps on the road. In all of her roles, Feldshuh manages to recreate not only the voice and accent of her characters but also their unique personality quirks, sense of humor and wisdom. It is no wonder that the list of awards bestowed upon Feldshuh throughout her career is lengthy and only getting lengthier as she continues to delight crowds. To name only a few recognitions, Feldshuh is a six-time Emmy and Tony nominee and has been awarded three honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters. Her roles range from Yentl to trapeze-swinging Berte in Pippin at the age of 60. In addition to her thespian talents, Feldshuh has recently proven herself to be a gifted writer with the publication of her first work, a memoir dedicated to her mother called “Lilyville: Mother, Daughter and Other Roles I’ve Played.” In a witty and thoughtful account of her growing up as an “entitled” young Jewish girl, she sheds light on a segment of American Jewish society that is both entertaining and meaningful.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, at 93, is a living phenomenon. After having witnessed her beloved father being carted away by truck after the infamous Night of Broken Glass, never to return, Ruth, born Karola Siegel, was sent on a Kindertransport to Switzerland with 300 other Jewish children. Though saved from certain death, the children were treated like slaves, forced into domestic service. Ruth realized that she would never advance without an education. When the opportunity to emigrate to Palestine was offered to the children, she quickly signed up. There, during the War for independence, at age 17, she served as a sharpshooter despite her tiny 4-foot, 7-inch stature. She sustained a neck injury in June of 1948 while standing guard on a rooftop protecting IDF forces.

When offered an opportunity to study psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris, she grabbed it.

Immigrating to the United States in 1956, she worked as a maid to put herself through graduate school. She earned a master’s in psychology from The New School in 1956 and a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College in 1970. Over the next decade, she taught in several universities including Princeton and Yale. In 1980 she initiated a radio call-in show show which soon became one of the top-rated shows in the radio industry. She has authored over 45 books in her field.

Throughout the production, we learn of Ruth’s three husbands, struggles as a single mother, delight in Judaism, closeness to Israel and devotion to family. The setting of the production is her cluttered Washington Heights apartment, dotted with her treasured dollhouses, which served her as consolation for the childhood that she lost at age 10 when her home was destroyed and she was separated from her beloved family.

There is no more fitting venue for this play than the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, which is the third-largest Holocaust Museum in the world. Its over 40,000 artifacts, photographs, documentary films and survivor testimonies enables its commitment to the crucial mission of educating its diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust. In sharing its landscape with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the Museum pays homage to the stories of the millions who sailed by its shores seeking to create a new life of freedom in America.

To purchase tickets for the remaining showings of “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” call
888-901-7932.

By Pearl Markovitz

 

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