Thursday, 19 July 2012

Borscht Belt Gallery

Robert Cohen & Tony Luis working at the Fallsview Hotel in 1958. 
Robert Cohen mingling with guests at Fallsview Hotel in 1959.
Tamarack Lodge's dining-room staff circa 1960 - photo credit by Robert Cohen who lived in Ellenville and worked the Fallsview, Homowack, Tamarack, Gilbert's and more.

Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in parts of Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties in upstate New York that were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s up to the 1960s.

The name comes from borscht, a soup that is popular in many Central and Eastern European countries and was brought from these regions by Slavic and Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants to the United States, where it remains a popular dish in these ethnic communities as well. It is a play-on-words of the term 'Bible Belt'. 

Borscht Belt hotels, bungalow colonies, summer camps, and קאָך-אַליינס kuchaleyns (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 from Central and Eastern Europe 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 people who visited there. 

Well-known resorts of the area included Brickman's, Brown's, The Concord, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibber's, Gilbert's, Grossinger's, Granit, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, Lansman's, the Nevele, Fallsview Hotel, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, Stevensville, the Tamarack Lodge, and the Windsor.


The post-World War II decline of the area coincided with the increase of air travel. When families could go to more far-off destinations such as Hawaii, the Caribbean, and even Europe for the same cost as going to the Catskills, the new destinations began to win out.

The 1980s onward were no kinder to the area, Grossinger's being the largest casualty; it closed in 1985 or 1986, and the property (except the country club, still active) was abruptly 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, would be ephemeral, as the latter filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and closed a year later.

Kutsher's dining room staff circa 1976; courtesy Philip Lebovits.

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