Teacher, writer, joke teller Bel Kaufman turns 100

In yesterday’s New York Times, Joseph Berger profiles Bel Kaufman – New York City teacher, granddaughter of the great Yiddish storyteller Sholem Aleichem, and author of the 1965 bestseller “Up the Down Staircase.” Kaufman, the consummate jokester, has just celebrated her 100th birthday. She also recently took a position teaching a Jewish humor course at Hunter College.

Berger writes that Kaufman fast-tracked her education after emigrating from the Soviet Union at age 12.

Ms. Kaufman’s hard work and the watchful eye of a demanding father led to a master’s degree in literature from Columbia and teaching jobs at a series of public high schools. Her 20-year odyssey became the springboard out of her grandfather’s shadow. In 1965, she published “Up the Down Staircase,” a novel about a new teacher very much like Ms. Kaufman who struggles to keep up her spirits in a school crowded with more than a few hopeful but ornery students and where memo-happy principals issue rules like not walking “up the down staircase.”

Berger reports that Kaufman is presently recovering from a broken rib – though it’s not keeping her for long from her favorite hobby, dancing mambos and tangos.

Read the article. Have a laugh. Be inspired. And pray that you should look so good when you’re not even close to her age.

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