Each people has as much heaven over its head as it has land under its feet.

Hayyim Nahman Bialik

Bel Kaufman (Bella Koifman) - biography

Bella "Bel" Kaufman (born May 10, 1911) is a Russian-American teacher and author, best known for writing the 1965 bestselling novel Up the Down Staircase. Kaufman was born in Berlin, Germany, where her father was studying medicine.

Although born in Germany, her native language was Russian; she was raised in Odessa (Ukraine, then a part of Russia). As a child, Bel Kaufman published her first poem, "Spring", in the Odessa magazine Little Bells.

She emigrated to the United States in 1923 at the age of 12 with her parents, moving to New York City, where she first began learning the English language. At the age of 18 she attended Hunter College in New York, from which she received a BA degree, then pursued a Master's degree at Columbia University. She then began work as a teacher in various New York City high schools, along with working part-time as a writer (including articles for Esquire magazine, for which she began to use the published name "Bel Kaufman").

Kaufman married Sydney Goldstine in 1940 and they had two children, Jonathan Goldstine and Thea Goldstine. The couple divorced in the 1960s. Sydney Goldstine died in 2000.

In 1965 she published the novel Up the Down Staircase, a novel about an idealistic young honors college graduate who becomes an English teacher in a New York City high school and deals with the gritty realities of her colleagues and students; it was based on Kaufman's own teaching experiences. Up the Down Staircase became an enormous success, remaining on the New York Times Best Seller list for 64 weeks. In 1967, the book was turned into a film of the same name.

In 1979 Kaufman published a second novel, Love, etc.. She has since then written various short stories. She has also continued as a teacher and lecturer. She continued teaching in NYC for over 20 years, according to Pearson Education. Kaufman has written, "I do not LIKE writing; in truth, I HATE writing, and would rather do anything else. But the joy comes when, almost in spite of myself, I come close to what I want to say. A sentence or an insight leaps from the page."

Kaufman is the granddaughter of famed Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. She recently celebrated her 99th Birthday at the annual memorial to her grandfather.

Awards and honors

  • Honorary chairman of the Yiddish studies faculty at Columbia University.
  • Board of directors for the Sholem Aleichem Foundation
  • Anti-defamation League award
  • United Jewish Appeal award
  • Member of Hall of Fame, Hunter College

Selected bibliography

  • Up the Down Staircase (1965)
  • Love, etc. (1979)

Article author: Zipora Galitski
Article tags: biography
The article is about these people:   Bel Bella Kaufman

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