Documentary recounts remarkable life of author Ruth Gruber

Ruth Ellen Gruber is the subject of ‘Ahead of Time’

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Light

One of the best documentaries in this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival is the Jewish Sidebar selection “Ahead of Time.”

“Ahead of Time” focuses on a remarkable person who has led a remarkable life: author and journalist Ruth Gruber, now in her late nineties but still sharp and independent.

Although famous for her coverage of events at the birth of Israel, we learn what a remarkable women she was even at a young age. Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, attending college at age 15, Gruber caused a media sensation when she earned her doctorate degree by age 20. But that early accomplishment was just the start of an astonishing life.

The film begins with Gruber in her New York apartment, as we listen to a radio broadcast describing how she is one of the authors being honored by the National Coalition Against Censorship for her book “Exodus 1947.” It focuses on the efforts of European Jewish refugees to breach the blockade of British-occupied Palestine in 1947.


The film takes us back to that time and place, when Gruber was in Jerusalem with a United Nations committee and reporting on the situation for the New York Herald Tribune. When she hears about the ship of refugees, named Exodus 1947, under attack by British forces, she seizes the opportunity to cover the story.

But the film then goes back to Gruber’s childhood in Brooklyn, where she thought the whole world must be Jewish. Going to New York University at age 15 opened her eyes to the larger world. She was fascinated by German culture and became an exchange student in 1931 Germany, staying with a Jewish family in Cologne.

Gruber’s willingness to travel the road less taken and seize unexpected opportunities allowed her to live a life of firsts. Being in Germany in 1932, she heard Hitler speak and recognizes his madness early. Resisting the expected path of early marriage after college, she becomes an early feminist after being introduced to the writings of Virginia Woolf. Then she launches a career as a journalist and feminist explorer, covering life in the Soviet Arctic and later working with the Roosevelt administration in opening up Alaska during the war. Seizing every chance opportunity, she ends up in British-controlled Palestine at just the right moment.

The film uses interviews with Gruber, first in her apartment and then at various locations, to frame the story. The narrative is fleshed out with the use of archival documents, film footage and stills, including those taken by the multi-talented Gruber.

Among the influences in Gruber’s life: Helen Reid, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune and Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Ahead of Time” is an eye-opening, fascinating film about an accomplished writer who has had a much more adventurous life than one might have guessed.

‘Ahead of Time’

When: 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14

Where: Plaza Frontenac Cinema

More info: The film is mostly in English, with a bit in Hebrew and German with English subtitles.