Ruth Gruber at 98: Clearly Ahead of Her Time

Born in Brooklyn in 1911Ruth Gruber became the youngest Ph.D. in the world (she wrote her dissertation on Virginia Woolf, with whom she corresponded) before going on to become an international foreign correspondent and photojournalist at age 24. “She emerged as the eyes and conscience of the world,” says the website for the film biography “Ahead of Time.”

Here is a short list of Ruth Gruber’s accomplishments; note that the list doesn’t even include her many books: The first journalist to enter the Soviet Arctic in 1935, Gruber also traveled to Alaska as a member of the Roosevelt administration in 1942, escorted Holocaust refugees to America in 1944, covered the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and documented the Haganah ship Exodus in 1947. Her relationships with world leaders including Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, and David Ben Gurion gave her unique access and insight into the modern history of the Jewish people.

In honor of the 98th birthday of this intrepid photojournalist, friends of hers who consider themselves Gruber’s “surrogate daughters,” decided that to honor the occasion with a film. The result is “Ahead of Time,” which played to mesmerized audiences at the New York Jewish Film Festival in January.

The friends, Patti Kenner, president of Campus Coach Lines, and Doris Schechter, founder and owner of the Manhattan kosher bakeries, restaurants and catering company My Most Favorite Food, became two of the film’s three executive producers. Schechter was only a little girl when Ruth Gruber accompanied her, her family and some 900 other refugees from Nazi Europe on a boat from Italy to Oswego, New York, where they were allowed safe haven. She and Ruth were reunited through mutual friends 25 years ago.

Kenner met Gruber after Haven, Gruber’s 1983 book on the Oswego experience, came to her attention when she was chairing an event for New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. Kenner and Schechter also met then, and decided, when they were celebrating Gruber’s 97th birthday, that since many films on Ruth Gruber’s life had been proposed and never made, they were going to produce a film about Gruber in time for her 98th birthday. In a remarkable feat of filmmaking, their dream team pulled it off, with 200 guests singing “Happy Birthday” to Gruber at the film’s opening in Greenwich Village in 2009. The film has since played the Toronto International Film Festival and other venues.

“We couldn’t have wanted a better film,” says Schechter. Kenner told Lilith, “We will never be able to do the things in our lifetime Ruth did in hers, but what we can do is keep the story of Ruth alive. “

For information about the film: zeva@