Dr. Ruth Westheimer attracts crowd at SD Women’s Philanthropy event

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Linda Feldman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Center, and Michael Sonduck, CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County. Courtesy photo

By Diane Y. Welch

The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as friends reconnected and hugs and smiles were in abundance at the “OPTIONS” afternoon event on Sunday, Jan. 12. The event is the centerpiece of the Jewish Federation of San

Diego County’s Women’s Philanthropy campaign. This was the 21st annual gathering of Jewish Women’s Philanthropy and a

record-breaking 1,100 attendees packed the Sapphire ballroom at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel to celebrate camaraderie and the common bond of giving.

A big draw was the keynote speaker Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

“Everyone knows Dr. Ruth as the world-renowned sex therapist,” said Ingrid Shulman, one of three co-chairs

along with Karen Kogut and Laura Vainer

who organized the event, “but she has an unbelievable story that

precedes her work as a therapist.”

Born in Germany,

Westheimer’s parents sent her to Switzerland to protect her from the Nazis during World War II. She was the only member of her family to survive the war and became a “Holocaust orphan.” After the war she went to Palestine and became a sniper in the Haganah

(Israel’s pre-statehood Jewish army).

The 85-year-old, 4-feet-7-inch legend, told the audience, “I’m still a good shot!”

From Israel she went to Paris to study and then came to New York where she became a licensed psychologist. Her advice to the younger women was to think

before they post photographs on the internet, as they often cannot be retrieved. She also commented, “I’m worried about texting and young people losing their ability to converse.”

The rapt audience hung on to her every word and responded to her advice to “try a new position” with laughter.

The co-chairs began organizing the event a year ago. They had free rein to design and create the event from the smallest detail, such as the table centerpieces, to the food choices and to the engagement of the keynote speaker.

“It was incredible that we were given that much freedom,” said Shulman.

In a successful move to include younger women there were many attendees from the federation’s Young Adult Division (YAD), said Shulman, who was also representing YAD.

“In the past many of the

OPTIONS events have been mainly attended by older women,

50-plus, so we are trying to change that by encouraging 20- to 30- year-olds to participate so that they understand what the federation does for the Jewish community and for Israel.”

Hannah Leib, 19, attended with her mother, Sharon Rosen Leib, a columnist for the San

Diego Jewish Journal. Hannah, a student at Pitzer College, volunteers at its Jewish students’ group

Hillel. She helps make Shabbat dinners for the community. Her mother is active in Temple Solel’s social action programs and volunteers on the federation’s Campership Committee.

“I brought Hannah to show her that charitable giving and

being part of the Jewish community helps fulfill the Jewish commitment to ‘Tikkun Olam’ (repairing the world) by doing good deeds,” said Rosen Leib. The two were representative of the level of

volunteerism and philanthropy among both the young and veteran guests.

Although men were scarce, Michael Sonduck, CEO of the

Jewish Federation of San Diego County, was very present. He

commented on the power of women as a philanthropic force and had praise for Lisa Kornfeld, the Women’s Philanthropy Campaign chair, and the co-chairs who made the OPTIONS event possible. “These are not honorary chairs, these ladies work hard all year to make this happen.”

The Jewish Federation of San Diego County is one of more than 150 Jewish federations in North America and has been instrumental in building one of the strongest charitable networks in the world. The OPTIONS event was underwritten by the Fischer

Family Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation. Visit to find out more about the federation.