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Bella "Bel" Kaufman was born in Berlin, where her father was studying medicine, but raised in Odessa and Kiev. Her family emigrated to the USA in 1923 when she was 12 years old, settling in New York City, where she first began learning English. She attended Hunter College and then earned a master's degree in literature from Columbia University. Her grandfather, the famed storyteller Sholem Aleichem, encouraged her to write at an early age and she had published her first story by age 7. After graduating from Columbia, Ms. Kaufman became a teacher in the New York City public schools. Her experiences formed the basis for her 1965 best-selling novel “Up the Down Staircase.” She also published several other works and in her nineties taught a class on Jewish humor at Hunter College. In 1940, Ms. Kaufman married Sydney Goldstine and the couple had two children; they divorced in the 1960s. She married a second time, to Sidney J. Gluck, who runs the Sholem Aleichem Memorial Foundation.
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