Author Bel Kaufman Passes Away at Age 103
American teacher and author Bella 'Bel' Kaufman passed away at 8:30 this morning in her apartment on Park Avenue. She was 103 years old, and still writing at the time of her death.
Born in Berlin, Germany, Kaufman grew up in the present-day Republic of Ukraine with Russian as her native language. She and her family immigrated to the United States when Kaufman was twelve years old and lived in New York City. There, Kaufman began to learn English, and enrolled at Hunter College when she was eighteen years old. She went on to earn a Master's degree in Literature at Columbia University.
In 1965, she published her first novel Up the Down Staircase. The book was a huge success, as it remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for 64 weeks and was turned into a film (of the same name) two years after its publication. In 1979, she published her second novel, Love, etc.. Since then, she has written numerous short stories and served as both a lecturer and a teacher.
Kaufman's grandfather was Sholem Aleichem, the renowned Yiddish writer. Aleichem wrote the stories that inspired the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. His collection of stories was entitled Teyve and His Daughters (also known as Teyve the Dairyman). The stories were originally written in Yiddish and were published in 1894.
Kaufman remembers her grandfather, though she was only five when he passed away. In a 2011 New York Times profile of Kaufman, she stated that she thought she was the last person alive who remembered him and one of his most defining qualities: his humor.
She said, "I remember his laugh; I remember his hand when we walked...He used to say the tighter I hold on to his hand, the better he will write."
Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway on September 22nd, 1964. With music by Jerry Brock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, the production went on to receive three major Tony Awards: Best Book, Best Score, and Best Musical. It has since been revived on Broadway four times.