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Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the (now mostly defunct) summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in parts of Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties in upstate New York. These resorts were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s up to the 1970s.[1]

Name[edit]

The name is a play-on-words of the term "Bible Belt". It comes from the fact that borscht (also transliterated as 'borshch' or 'borsch'), a beet-based soup from Ukraine that was brought by Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants to the United States, was and remains a popular dish in those resort hotels.

History[edit]

Borscht Belt hotels, bungalow colonies, summer camps, and קאָך-אַליינס kokh-aleyns (a Yiddish name for self-catered boarding houses, literally, "cook-alones") were frequented by middle and working class Jewish New Yorkers, mostly Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and their children and grandchildren, particularly in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Because of this, the area was also nicknamed the Jewish Alps and "Solomon County" (a modification of Sullivan County), by many who visited there. Well known resorts of the area included Brickman's, Brown's Hotel, The Concord, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibber's, Gilbert's, Grossinger's, Granit, the Woodbine Hotel, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, Lansman's, the Nevele, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, Silverman's River View Hotel, Stevensville, Stiers, the Tamarack Lodge, and the Windsor Regency.

Two of the larger hotels in High View (north of Bloomingburg) were Shawanga Lodge and the Overlook. One of the high points of Shawanga Lodge's existence came in 1959, when it was the site of a conference of scientists researching laser beams. The conference marked the start of serious research into lasers.[2] The hotel burned to the ground in 1973.[3]

The Overlook remains in a different form, no longer functioning as it was in its heyday. The Overlook had entertainment and summer lodging through the late 1960s and was operated by the Schrier family. It included a main building and about 50 other bungalows, plus a five-unit cottage just across the street.

Some of these hotels originated from farms that were established by immigrant Jews in the early part of the 20th century.

The New York, Ontario & Western Railway served the area with passenger service from Weehawken, New Jersey, until 1948. The railroad was abandoned in 1957. Despite the improvement of travel routes such as the original New York State Route 17, the area is no longer a major travel destination.

The decline of the Catskills resorts was apparent as early as 1965. As ethnic barriers in the U.S. declined and air travel to distant resort locations became more convenient and affordable, Jewish American families in New York City reduced their patronage of Catskills resorts; by the early 1960s, between a quarter and a third of Grossinger's annual visitors were non-Jewish guests.[4] In the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, traditional resort vacations lost their appeal for many younger adults.[4] Smaller, more modest hotels such as Youngs Gap and the Ambassador found themselves in a niche with a vanishing clientele and closed by the end of the 1960s. The 1970s took a toll on more lavish establishments such as the Flagler and The Laurels.[5] In 1986 Grossinger's closed, and the property was abandoned by new owners midway through a demolition and rebuilding of the old resort. Any benefit gained by Grossinger's largest historic rival (and the largest of all the Borscht Belt resorts), the Concord, was ephemeral, as the latter filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and closed a year later.

In 1987, New York's mayor Ed Koch proposed buying the Gibber Hotel in Kiamesha Lake to house the homeless. The idea was opposed by local officials.[6] The hotel instead became a religious school, like many old hotels in the Catskills.[7]

Legacy[edit]

A large percentage of the region is a summer home for Orthodox Jewish families,[8] primarily from the New York metropolitan area. It has many summer homes and bungalow colonies (including many of the historic colonies), as well as year-round dwellers. It has its own year-round branch of the Orthodox Jewish volunteer emergency medical service, Hatzolah. A few resorts remain in the region, though not many associated with the Borscht Belt prime (including Kutsher's Hotel, Villa Roma, Soyuzivka, a Ukrainian cultural resort, and the Skazka, Xenia, and Hotel Pine resorts, which are Russian cultural resorts.)[9][10][11]

Plans are now in place by those who purchased former Borscht Belt resorts Concord Resort Hotel and Grossinger's to work with American Indians in an attempt to bring gambling to the region. Because the Borscht Belt's prime has long passed and many of the resorts are abandoned, developers feel that this is the only way to revitalize the region to the popularity it once had by attracting guests to world-class casinos and resorts such as the ones in New Jersey and Connecticut. However, large-scale casino plans have not come to fruition, mainly because there are no Indian reservations anywhere near the area (the Mohawk tribe's effort to build a Catskills casino was rejected for this very reason). Instead, the state government has proposed legalizing off-reservation gambling, which will require a positive referendum; the referendum passed in November 2013.

The Heiden Hotel in South Fallsburg, which was the location of the movie Sweet Lorraine starring Maureen Stapleton, was destroyed by fire in May 2008.[12]

The Stevensville Hotel in Swan Lake, which was owned by the family of David G. Friehling, who pleaded guilty as an accomplice of Bernard Madoff, has reopened as the Swan Lake Resort Hotel.[13][14]

The former Homowack Lodge in Spring Glen, New York, was converted into a summer camp for Hassidic girls. Officials of the state Department of Health ordered the property evacuated in July 2009, citing health and safety violations.[15]

Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club hosted the United States edition of the music festival All Tomorrow's Parties in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In November 2013 it was sold to Veria Lifestyle, which plans to demolish the old resort and build a $90 million Nature Cure Lifestyle Management Center.[16]

The Granite currently operates as the Hudson Valley Resort.[17]

The Tamarack Lodge caught fire in 2012. 30 buildings were partially or completely destroyed.[18]

The area has started to go through a revival as a destination for motorsports enthusiasts visiting the Monticello Motor Club. In 2012, the club announced expansion plans to attract professional racing, such as American Le Mans, Grand-Am and IndyCar, to the area.

Comedic legacy[edit]

See also: Jewish humor

The tradition of Borscht Belt entertainment started in the early 20th century with the indoor and outdoor theaters constructed on a 40 acre (16-hectare) tract in Hunter, New York, by Yiddish theater star Boris Thomashefsky.

Comedians who got their start or regularly performed in Borscht Belt resorts include the following:

Borscht Belt humor refers to the rapid-fire, often self-deprecating style common to many of these performers and writers. Typical themes include

  • Bad luck: "When I was a kid, I was breast-fed by my father." (Dangerfield)
  • Puns: "Sire, the peasants are revolting!" "You said it. They stink on ice." (Harvey Korman as Count de Money (Monet) and Mel Brooks as King Louis XVI, in History of the World Part I)
  • Physical complaints and ailments (often relating to bowels and cramping): "My doctor said I was in terrible shape. I told him, 'I want a second opinion.' He said, 'All right, you're ugly too!'" "I told my doctor, 'This morning when I got up and saw myself in the mirror, I looked awful! What's wrong with me?' He replied, 'I don't know, but your eyesight is perfect!'" (Dangerfield)
  • Aggravating relatives and nagging wives: "My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met." (Dangerfield). "Take my wife—please!" (Henny Youngman); "My wife drowned in the pool because she was wearing so much jewelry." (Rickles); "My wife ain't too bright. One day our car got stolen. I said to her, 'Did you get a look at the guy?' She said, 'No, but I got the license number.'" (Dangerfield) "This morning the doorbell rang. I said 'Who is it?' He said 'It's the Boston strangler.' I said 'It's for you dear!'" (Youngman)

Some—but not all—of the modern Borscht Belt comedians, such as Don Rickles, Lenny Bruce. Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers, referred openly to Jews and anti-Semitism.

Also seen regularly at these Catskills resorts were a large number of singers, dancers, musicians, and other variety acts, including the following:

In popular culture[edit]

These resorts have been the setting for movies such as Dirty Dancing (which was actually filmed in Virginia and North Carolina), Sweet Lorraine, and A Walk on the Moon.

Characters inspired by Borscht Belt comics include Billy Crystal's Buddy Young Jr. from Mr. Saturday Night, Robert Smigel's Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, and Fozzie Bear of The Muppets.

The early 20th-century Jewish experience of vacationing in the Catskills was recounted in the graphic short story "Cookalein" by Will Eisner. The story appears in Eisner's collection A Contract with God.

The novel Marjorie Morningstar was about the same era and locale, but the corresponding film was actually made in the Adirondacks, rather than the Catskills.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jewish scholars study history, cultural significance of the Borscht Belt
  2. ^ Hecht, Jeff (2005). Beam: the race to make the laser. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-19-514210-5. 
  3. ^ "Mamakating" by Monika A. Roosa, Arcadia Publishing, 2007, p. 29.
  4. ^ a b Jones, Abigail (September 27, 2013). "Beautiful ruins: The Catskills may be dying, but the memories live on". Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved October 27, 2013. 
  5. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5it7KmNphMo
  6. ^ Purnick, Joyce (1987-04-04). "Catskills Hotel Suggested For Homeless". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Ami magazine Sep/15/13 issue 136 page 172
  9. ^ "Skazka Resort". Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  10. ^ "Xenia Resort". Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  11. ^ "Hotel Pine". Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  12. ^ "Overnight fire destroys Heiden Hotel of 'Sweet Lorraine' fame". recordonline.com. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  13. ^ Steve Israel. "Madoff mess has local link". recordonline.com. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  14. ^ [2][dead link]
  15. ^ Whitman, Victor (2009-07-16). "New York wants sect to leave old resort". Times Herald Record. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  16. ^ Valdez, Chris (2013-11-29). "Sale of Kutsher's finalized". Times Herald Record. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  17. ^ http://www.hudsonvalleyresort.com/
  18. ^ "Massive fire at Tamarack Lodge visible for miles". http://hudsonvalley.ynn.com. Retrieved 2012-04-08. 

External links[edit]


Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borscht_Belt — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.

2735 news items

Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Mon, 09 Mar 2015 19:27:28 -0700

Resorts dotting the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York were filled with families spending their summer days swimming in pools, and their nights dancing in clubs or watching stand-up from soon-to-be-famous comedians. The holiday destinations were ...
 
Thousand Oaks Acorn
Wed, 11 Mar 2015 20:33:45 -0700

Known as the Borscht Belt, this was the proving ground for countless comedians of Jewish descent—including Danny Kaye, Jack Benny and Phil Silvers—to practice their craft before moving on to national prominence. “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” which plays ...
 
Camarillo Acorn
Wed, 11 Mar 2015 20:33:45 -0700

Known as the Borscht Belt, this was the proving ground for countless comedians of Jewish descent—including Danny Kaye, Jack Benny and Phil Silvers—to practice their craft before moving on to national prominence. “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” which plays ...

National Review Online

National Review Online
Sat, 28 Mar 2015 01:26:15 -0700

From the made-up facts to the disingenuous invocation of high-minded principle, this one has it all. EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg's weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Slate Magazine (blog)

Slate Magazine (blog)
Fri, 27 Mar 2015 05:19:49 -0700

Ferrell just isn't right for this part: The role is too stagy, too wordy for him, and his style of comedy is just too modern and deconstructionist to handle the Borscht Belt punning of Mel Brooks. Watching Ferrell here, you can tell he kinds of knows ...

Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune
Thu, 05 Mar 2015 19:01:31 -0800

NEW YORK — Larry David's first foray into Broadway comedy is like watching a weird — but undeniably entertaining and, God help us all, even potentially transformative — fusion of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Borscht Belt comedy of the old school, long ...
 
The Patriot Ledger
Wed, 25 Feb 2015 15:15:00 -0800

Years ago, there was also the “Borscht Belt” that was a popular resort area in the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York. It was given this name because the majority of vacationers were Jewish and borscht soup was very popular with this ethnic group.
 
Waynesboro Record Herald
Thu, 26 Feb 2015 12:48:45 -0800

Years ago, there was also the “Borscht Belt” that was a popular resort area in the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York. It was given this name because the majority of vacationers were Jewish, and borscht soup was very popular with this ethnic group.
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