Apr 25, 2013

Meet “Rifka Takes a Bow” Author Betty Rosenberg Perlov

Sometimes a picture book can encapsulate the spirit of a very specific time and place. When this happens it is always special, but it doubly special if the collective cultural memory of that time and place is rapidly fading.
At the turn of the century in New York City, the place to go for any Jewish person—immigrant or not—was the Yiddish Theater. New York’s vibrant Jewish immigrant community on the Lower East Side boasted the Yiddish Theater District.  With roots reaching back to Eastern Europe, the comic, dramatic and musical performances of the Yiddish Theater found an enthusiastic audience in thousands of Yiddish-speaking immigrants. The Yiddish Theater provided a shared experience for immigrants from different parts of the world who had a language in common, but sometimes little else.  It offered entertainment and amusement, but education, too. Popular with all classes of people, the productions exposed audiences to culture, such as Yiddish adaptations of Shakespearean plays. Productions raised relevant issues of the day, such as conflict between old ways and new, assimilation, and Jewish values. The Yiddish Theater launched many stage and song greats, from actresses Molly Picon and Sophie Tucker, actor Edward G. Robinson, singer Eddie Cantor, and songwriter Irving Berlin, and once-child actress and now first-time book author, Betty Rosenberg Perlov.
Betty Rosenberg Perlov, age 96, grew up in the Yiddish Theater, where her mother was an actress and her father a playwright, actor, and producer. Always artistic, she was a "child star" on her father’s weekly Yiddish radio soap opera, Men Without Eyes, in which she played a blinded young woman who was jilted by her betrothed.

Eventually Betty was married and assumed a fairly traditional life of middle class parent and wife, but always felt a need for artistic expression. In her fifties, Betty decided to go to college and earned a BA. Then, in her sixties, she went to NYU for graduate studies in Speech Pathology, received an MS and became a licensed speech pathologist, working in the field through her seventies. Satisfying as this was, Betty still felt the need to share her artistic gifts with others, feeling not completely realized as an artist. That is until now, since her beautiful book does the magic of transporting us to the past and exciting young minds about the possibilities of performance. Rifka Takes a Bow will be available in Fall 2013.
Q & A with Betty!

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Gulliver’s Travels

What’s your favorite line from a book?
“Open Sesame”

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
John Tenniel, JD Salinger, Isaac Babel

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
Because I wanted to emulate the authors and artists who inspired me as a child.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Don’t be discouraged by rejection.  Always persevere.  I’m 96 years old and look at me.

Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book?
When I was a child, my parents were Yiddish Theater performers and I was awe-struck by the magical world of the theater and my parents’ workplace.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The Yiddish Theater started approximately 130 years ago and I very much want to see its memory kept alive.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing or illustrating your book?
I learned that I can remember small and subtle details from many years ago.
How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
I want Jewish Children to be aware of a very exciting part of their culture – one that, perhaps, they do not know much about.

What are some fun facts about you?
When I was three years old, I knew 53 songs in Russian and Yiddish.


  1. Betty, you're absolutely fabulous!!

  2. Hi Betty,
    I am a friend of Danny and Karen and I am so moved by your life story! You inspire everyone to know it's always the right time to try something new! I look forward to reading Rifka Takes A Bow and to meeting you.
    Warmest regards,
    Joan Erskine

  3. Hi Betty - I am a friend of Susanna. My mother is still alive and 94 but I cannot possibly imagine her writing a book!!! Congratulations!!! You are a remarkable woman. I can't wait to get the book and share it with my granddaughter. Best Wishes, Judy