Bel Kaufman, 1911-2014

The past Friday, the literary world lost author and lecturer Bel Kaufman.  The Jewish Public Library was lucky enough to host Kaufman in 1976 as part that year’s Jewish Book Month.  Her lecture was entitled, “Survival Through Humour”.

Bel Kaufman was born in Germany in 1911 but spent her formative years in Kiev and Odessa.  At age 12 she moved with her parents to New York.  She went on to earn a Bachelor degree from Hunter College and later a Master’s degree in literature from Columbia.  In 1965, while still writing, she also began teaching at New York public high schools.  This experience provided material for her best-known book Up the Down Staircase.  The novel, about a young college graduate navigating the administrative, social and cultural landscape of high schools, was a major hit and remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 64 weeks.  In 1967 it was developed into a film by Warner Brothers starring Sandy Dennis.  Kaufman continued to write and teach even after she reached the grand age of 100.

In addition to leaving the Library and its audiences with a fantastic lecture, Ms. Kaufman also gifted to the JPL Archives an album of images from her maternal grandfather’s funeral.  These images of Sholem Aleichem’s funeral procession can be viewed on the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network.

A full obituary appears in the New York Times.


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