Bel Kaufman, the 102-year-old granddaughter of famed Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, will be the guest on the January 19th edition of Radio Chavura. The show is broadcast every Sunday at 6:30 pm on 990 KRKS AM in Denver. It is also available to stream or download from www.Chavura.com.
Born Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich in 1859, Sholem Aleichem is best known for writing the stories that were eventually adapted for Broadway and film as ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ Often referred to as “the Jewish Mark Twain,” Aleichem was born into a Hasidic family and grew up in a shtetl in what is now the Ukraine. He resettled in New York City in 1905 and passed away in 1916.
Aleichem had six children. His daughter, Lyalya, a Hebrew writer, was Kaufman’s mother.
In her exclusive interview with Radio Chavura, Kaufman observes, “I am the only person in the world at this time who [personally] remembers Sholem Aleichem.”
Although Kaufman was five years old when her famous grandfather died, she still has clear memories of him. She recalls that Aleichem used to say to her, “‘The tighter you hold my hand, [the better] I will write.’ So,” Kaufman jokes, “anyone who enjoys his writing has me to thank.”
Kaufman, who lives in Manhattan with her 97-year-old husband, is a successful author in her own right. In 1965, she penned the bestselling “Up The Down Staircase,” which recounted the life of a first-year public school teacher in New York City. The book was made into a film in 1967, starring Sandy Dennis as the teacher.
During her Radio Chavura interview, Kaufman discusses a wide range of questions, including why Sholem Aleichem’s stories are so popular, and the role that the Yiddish language has played in global literature.
Addressing why Sholem Aleichem’s writings have remained so popular, Kaufman responds, “Because of his humor, because of his humanity.” Fiddler on the Roof won nine Tony Awards when it premiered as a play in 1965, and three Academy Awards for the 1971 film adaptation.
Kaufman, who worked as a substitute teacher in the New York Public School system, spoke about her vision for the education system in America, discussing how empathy towards students is often overlooked in favor of administrative goals:
“[Education] has nothing to do with school buildings, or administration, or federal laws, or civic laws. It has to do with feeling. A talented teacher who feels [his or her] students understands where they come from, what they really are looking for, [and] can do marvels.”
In addition, Kaufman notes, “surprise and affection” are the two traits that every teacher must bring to the classroom. “[Students need to] know that you feel for them.”
Kaufman concludes the interview by discussing the whereabouts of different artifacts of her grandfather’s (they have mostly ended up in museums in Russia and in Israel) and shares with listeners a very personal letter that she received from her grandfather, only months before his passing.
Kaufman is the latest in a serious of prominent local, national and international guests who have been featured on Radio Chavura.
Other well-known guests have included: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock; Forbes investigative writer Richard Behar; Russell Robinson, CEO, the Jewish National Fund; Itamar Marcus, founder, Palestinian Media Watch; Dr. Neil W. Levin, artistic director of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music; Rabbi Joseph R. Black, Senior Rabbi of Denver’s Temple Emanuel; U.S. Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-05); Brigitte Gabriel, founder, ACT for America; Rabbi Harold Kushner, author; Caroline Glick, Israeli journalist and author; Barry Fey z'l, rock concert promoter; and Michael R. Milken, philanthropist.
All previous editions of Radio Chavura are available for free online at www.Chavura.com, as well as through the iTunes podcast store.