Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sholom Aleichem's Granddaughter, at 100, Teaches College Course in Jewish Humor

Bel Kaufman, the granddaughter of Yiddish writer and humorist Sholom Aleichem, was recently invited to become an adjunct professor and teach a course in Jewish humor at Hunter College, her alma mater, in New York City. Kaufman, 100 years old, happily accepted, saying she will never retire.

Kaufman, who wrote the book Up the Down Staircase in 1964, grew up in Russia, learned English at age twelve, and went on to a distinguished literary, academic, and teaching career. She has won many awards for her writing and public speaking, addressing educators and students here and abroad.

In May, Kaufman was profiled by Joseph Berger in a feature article in The New York Times. Writing about the jokes she and her students dissected in class, including the "A Frenchman, a German, and a Jew walk into a bar" joke that we mentioned in yesterday's blog post about Old Jews Telling Jokes, Berger reported:
“We were not just telling jokes,” Ms. Kaufman said in her book-lined Park Avenue study, her eyes glinting mischievously. “We were investigating why so many comedians are Jewish and so many Jewish jokes are so self-accusing.”
“It goes back to immigration from the shtetl, from that poverty, and because the Jew was the object of so much opprobrium and hatred,” she said. “The jokes were a defense mechanism: ‘We’re going to talk about ourselves in a more damaging way than you could.’ ”
In the video that follows, Bel Kaufman reflects on humor and life for Guideposts' Generation Inspiration series.  Enjoy!

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