May 10, 1911 - July 25, 2014
Bel Kaufman (born Bella M. Koifman) was a successful writer in her own right, having penned one of the best selling books in American history - Up The Down Staircase, an educator with a career that spans many decades, and world's oldest hired professor. She was the granddaughter of the famous Russian-Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem.
Bel Kaufmann – The Hundred Year Old Professor
Bel Kaufmann was born in Germany, where her father Michael Kaufman studied medicine, but with the breakout of World War I they, being citizens of the Russian empire, were deported and settled in Odessa, modern Ukraine. Her mother Lala (Lyalya) Kaufman (née Rabinowitz) was the oldest daughter of the famed Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem.
There they witnessed hardships, including diseases and famine; Bel wrote about her childhood experiences: "There were dead bodies frozen in unnatural poses along the road. People would eat bread made of shells and pease, since you could not find wheat".
In 1923 the family moved to America, to New York City. The girl quickly caught up in English, finished high school with honors and graduated from Hunter College with a BA degree. She decided on a career of an educator and enrolled into Columbia University, where she would get her MA degree. She refused to retire and continued to teach, in 2011 becoming world's oldest hired professor! Bel was 99 years old at the time.
Her teaching career became the basis for her most famous work, Up The Down Staircase (1965), telling about a young and idealistic graduate who starts teaching at one of New York's public schools and runs into the gritty real life. The book became one of the best selling works of fiction in American history, staying in New York Times' Best Seller list for 64 weeks! The book was turned into a critically and commercially successful movie. In 1979 she published her second (and last) novel, Love, etc., afterwards concentrating on short stories.
Bel claims that she does not enjoy writing – on the contrary, it is an equivalent of hard labor for her, and the only thing that keeps her writing is the feeling she gets when she can transfer to paper the precise ideas and emotions she feels.
The writer was married to Sydney Goldstine for two decades (1940-1960) and gave birth to two children, son Jonathan and daughter Thea. She also has a granddaughter.
Berger, Joseph (May 11, 2011). "At 100, Still a Teacher, and Quite a Character". The New York Times.
Pearson Education biography of Bel Kaufman
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