Ruth Gruber is still optimistic about Mideast peace.
On Sunday afternoon, two days after her 100th birthday, the legendary journalist, photojournalist, author and humanitarian told several hundreds family members, friends and admirers who came to celebrate with her at the Museum of Jewish Heritage that “we must all work with passion in our hearts and minds for that prayer” to be answered.
In brief, extemporaneous remarks, she recalled meeting with Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, shortly before his death in 1973. She said he predicted that peace from the Arabs would first come from Egypt, which it did.
“How will it come?” Gruber recalled asking Ben-Gurion, and he said it will happen because “we have so much to give them” in terms of medical and other scientific breakthroughs.
Confidante of presidents and prime ministers, Gruber beamed when a recent letter was read to her from former President Bill Clinton, offering “mazal tov” and praising her for “blazing trails for professional women.” He said she has left “an indelible imprint on world history,” most notably for her key role in America’s only effort to shelter refugees during World War II.
Sent by Washington with the rank of “temporary general” (to protect her status in case she was caught by the Germans), she escorted 1,000 refugees to the U.S., where they were kept at an army training camp near Oswego, N.Y., until after the war, and eventually allowed to settle here.
One of those refugees was Doris Schechter, then a child of five, who has stayed close with Gruber ever since.
“I am so fortunate to have you in my life as mentor, friend and surrogate mother,” said Schechter, whose Manhattan eatery, My Most Favorite Food, catered the luncheon Sunday.
Another self-proclaimed “surrogate daughter,” Patti Kenner, said Gruber was her role model and inspiration.
Kenner and Schecter were executive producers of the 2009 award-winning documentary about Gruber’s life, “Ahead of Time,” which details her time as a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, covering Hitler’s rise to power — and later the Nuremberg Trials — and interviewing and photographing beleaguered passengers of the Exodus in 1947, when it was turned away from Palestine by the British.
Her photos, including one on the cover of Life magazine, stirred empathy for the Jews’ plight.
“You’re not just a journalist,” one interviewer comments to Gruber in the film.
“Never,” she answers with a smile.
The Jewish Week will honor Gruber, along with New York Times columnist David Brooks, at a gala dinner Nov. 29 at Sotheby’s. For information, www.thejewishweek.com/gala.