Writer Bel Kaufman, granddaughter of Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, has died. Kaufman, author of the 1960s hit novel Up the Down Staircase, died Friday in Manhattan at the age of 103. The novel was based on her experience teaching in public school in New York City. She used real memos from the administration and other documents to tell the story of a fictional teacher working to inspire her students despite the bureaucracy and chaos. The book was made into a movie in 1967.
Kaufman was born in Berlin and grew up in Odessa and Kiev. She came to the United States in 1923, and earned a master’s degree from Columbia University. She had trouble obtaining a job in the public schools due to her lingering Russian accent, according to the Los Angeles Times. At the age of 99, Kaufman taught a course on Jewish humor called “Six Weeks of Laughter” at her undergraduate alma mater Hunter College in New York. – JTA News and Features