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This is NOT The Borscht Belt: Resorts of the Early Jewish Catskills

The histories and legends of the Catskill Mountains, located just north of New York City, are deeply ingrained into American history. The Catskills were the first “Vacationland” of America. Made popular by the writer Washington Irving, the Catskill Mountains come to mind whenever we hear of “Rip Van Winkle” or “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The first American art movement was the Hudson River School, which focused on the physical and, very importantly, the spiritual beauties of the Catskill Mountains. The spiritual reverence for these Mountains led to the creation of Manhattan’s Central Park, designed in homage by the exceptional British architect, Calvert Vaux –assisted by the well-known newspaper reporter, whose journalistic writings are still in print, Frederick Law Olmsted.

In addition to numerous other resorts, 150 years ago, the lush forests and lakes of the Catskill Mountains, also became home to a small handful of celebrated Jewish resort communities. These enclaves provided a reprieve from city life, with summer destinations in a specifically Jewish environment for members of the cultural and social elite of American Jewry. We’ll explore the Jewish histories of important, but largely forgotten summer
communities in towns such as Fleischmanns, Tannersville, Hunter, Sharon Springs, and even New York’s famous resort for politicos, Saratoga Springs. In these affluent communities, we’ll learn of world-transforming musicians and composers, prominent Jewish businessmen, a well-loved opera singer, a New York State Governor, history-making rabbis, stars of the Yiddish Theatre, and the only woman in America who was a close second in popularity to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Today, the histories of these historically important communities are largely forgotten – having been overshadowed by more recent memories of the later resorts of Sullivan County. These Catskill Mountain communities, in which anti-Semitism was consciously challenged, set the groundwork for the appearance of those much later resorts in the Shawangunk Mountains that included Grossinger’s, Kutsher’s, the Nevele, and so many that lovingly reside in people’s memories… Those resorts (and many others) will be ncluded in the second part of this two-part series. PART TWO IS November 7.

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South(west)ern & Jewish

Today’s blog is by Gabe Weinstein, a 2013 ISJL Summer Intern in the History Department.  He now lives in Angel Fire, New ...