The Catskills Come Alive


Summer is fully here, with the heat settling into the city’s concrete, not planning to leave until Labor Day. But just two hours away, children have started sleep-away camp, catching salamanders after the rain. The first visiting day is already this coming Sunday, the bungalow colonies have returned to their languid timelessness, and Jewish shops have reopened in Woodbourne and Woodbridge, Monticello and Loch Sheldrake, villages whose very names resonate like shtetls with private memories and public history.

One can leave the city after breakfast and by noon be in a different world, discovering that there is no greater misconception than the idea that “the mountains” are no longer thoroughly Jewish; the population of Sullivan County has again ballooned by scores of thousands of Jewish vacationers. According to the Times Herald-Record, the Catskills’ wonderful paper, most of the $312 million spent by visitors to Sullivan County each year is spent in July and August, except we don’t think of ourselves as visitors but coming home. The slow walkers have returned along the side roads, the Delaware and Neversink rivers have welcomed back the canoes and kayaks, and the local non-Jews, says the paper, know that “the best day to shop in the Monticello/Liberty area is Saturday, when thousands of summer visitors are observing the Sabbath.”

While many are finding a “staycation” in the nearby mountains and lakes highly appealing, the one wistful note is that the classic Jewish hotels are no longer, gone too soon, save for Kutsher’s, the only kosher hotel (now glatt) still in operation in Sullivan County. That Kutsher’s has made a valiant effort to survive, and ought to now enjoy the Catskills revival, is worth celebrating. Once gone, other Jewish hotels have found resurrection impossible, making Kutsher’s continued good health all the more precious and worthy of our collective blessing.

There was a recent effort in Mountaindale to create a “bungalow heritage museum,” looking to purchase bungalow buildings, evocative of an earlier era, to be filled with histories, period furniture, photos and items once thought to be meaningless and now understood as culturally vital. Others want to purchase a surviving hotel building for a similar purpose. But before nostalgia overwhelms, let’s keep in mind that the real thing still exists, alive and joyful: at Kutsher’s, at scores of bungalow colonies, in so many of the old villages, where a new generation is creating new memories and the stories of tomorrow, even as you’re reading this.

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