Although her earliest writings for the Forverts were translated from Russian to Yiddish by Dina Blond-Mikhelovitch, Lyalya Kaufman wrote most of her over two thousand sketches and short stories in Yiddish herself. Up until her death in 1964, Kaufman, the eldest daughter of Sholem Aleichem, was the only one of his six children who pursued a literary career.
Lyalya Kaufman was born Sarah Rabinowitz in Belaya Tserkov, near Kiev, in 1887. She studied at the gymnasium in Kiev and attended university in Geneva. In 1909, she married Michael Kaufman. The young couple moved to Berlin, Germany, where Michael studied medicine. In 1922, the family went to America and lived in Newark, New Jersey, where Kaufman practiced medicine and Lyalya Kaufman continued to write and translate. In 1926, she published a poignant memoir of her father in The Sholom Aleichem Book.
She wrote for the Tsukunft and other Yiddish literary journals. However, it was her charming, intimate, “minimalist” vignettes that appeared in the Forverts every Monday for well over thirty years that gained her thousands of loyal readers. She translated some of her father’s works into Russian and English. According to her daughter, novelist Bel Kaufman, Sholem Aleichem urged his daughter to become a writer since she wrote such wonderful letters and stories. In later years, Abraham Cahan, editor of the Forverts, and others encouraged her to develop her narratives more fully. More specifically, she was asked to write a more extended memoir of her illustrious father but, in Bel Kaufman’s words, her mother wrote “on one foot.”
In 1968, several years after Lyalya Kaufman’s death, her younger sister, Marie Waife-Goldberg, wrote the long-awaited memoir of their father.
Lyalya Kaufman died on December 24, 1964, in New York City.
American Jewish Year Book. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1966: 577.
Fogelman, L. Forverts, February 15, 1964, 9.
Kaufman, Bel. Telephone interview with author, February 7, 1996.
Obituary. NYTimes, December 25, 1964. 29:3.
Raskin, Saul, ed. Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur [Biographical dictionary of modern Yiddish literature]. Vol. 8 (1965): 161.
“Vi Ikh Ze Im.” [How I see him]. Dos Sholem Aleykhem Bukh [The Sholem Aleichem book], edited by Y.D. Berkowitz. New York: The Shalom Aleichem Book Committee, 1926.
Waife-Goldberg, Marie. My Father, Sholom Aleichem, 1968.
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Bilik, Dorothy. "Lyalya Kaufman." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 22, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/kaufman-lyalya>.