Legendary Educator And Author
Bel Of The Ballroom Still Hip At 95
The author, educator and humorist Bel Kaufman, who turns 95 on May 10, will be honored by the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre, at a gala concert at Town Hall on June 12. Her novel Up the Down Staircase, which drew heavily on her experiences as a teacher in the New York City public school system, is still in print and has sold over 7 million copies world wide since its publication in 1963.
She taught English at a dozen high schools in Manhattan, but her longest and most memorable years as a teacher were spent at the famous High School of Performing Arts (formerly on West 46th Street), where her students included the actors Richard Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Cora Cahan (president of The New 42nd Street), the choreographer Elliott Feld, and Michael Kahn, the director of Juilliard’s Drama Division. The granddaughter of the legendary Yiddish novelist and social commentator of his day Sholem Aleichem (her mother was his daughter), Ms. Kaufman is the last of her family to have known Aleichem. She credits him with inspiring her to become a writer, and still treasures many of his letters to her, the last of which he wrote in 1915 (the year before his death).
At the time of his death in New York, Kaufman, who was born in Berlin (where her father attended medical school), lived with her parents in Moscow where she witnessed pivotal events in the Russian Revolution. On the family’s crossing to America in 1922 she remembers meeting the stage director Stanislavsky who was headed to America with his Moscow Arts Theatre colleagues for the first time. A magna cum laude graduate of Hunter College and of Columbia University where she earned her masters degree in English Literature, Ms. Kaufman has been married to the photographer, artist, textile designer and China authority Sydney Gluck for the past 34 years. She published another novel, Love, Etc. in 1990, about love marriage and divorce. Currently, in addition to her still impressively frequent appearances as a lecturer on education, the Jewish identity and the art of aging, Ms. Kaufman ballroom dances twice a week. Her partner, who is not her husband she is quick to point out, is a professional ballroom dancer.#