Catskills Resorts

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



The Kosher Alps


     Between the years 1920 and 1970, a number of Jewish owned hotels and boarding houses catered to the Jewish population of New York City and surroundings. Best known among these establishments were Grossinger's, The Concord and The Nevele, which hosted numerous conventions, Jewish and otherwise.

     Also known as “the Borscht belt,” these places reflected the eastern European origin of the Jews whose frequented them. Evidently, “borscht” is a Ukrainian soup made from beet roots.

     In the early years, these hotels and resorts served the needs of the huge Jewish immigration in New York and other east coast cities. Living in overcrowded slums, the Jewish immigrants sought refuge from the heat and discomfort of New York City summers by vacationing briefly in these places. Then, as the Jewish population prospered, the hotels also improved their profits and therefore built more elaborate hotels. The Concord had 1,300 rooms at one time. It was closed in 1998 because there were not sufficient customers to make it profitable. That was also true of most of the other hotels. Guests now took their vacation in Florida or Arizona, and by 2000 many Jews had moved to those states.

     One of the features of these Jewish resorts was the entertainment of the guests by promoting the Jewish comedians at the time. These included such “humorists” as Joey Adams, a.k.a. Joseph Abramowitz, a native of Brooklyn who wrote numerous humor books, “Woody” Allen, a.k.a. Allen Stewart Koenigsberg, well known as a movie actor and producer, Milton Berle, a.k.a. Milton Berlinger, Joey Bishop, a.k.a. Joeph Abraham Gottlieb, Red Buttons, a.k.a. Aaron Chwatt, Myron Cohen, George Jessel, Carl Reiner, Phil Silvers, etc., etc., etc., and at least one hundred more.

     These comedians told so-called “Jewish” jokes, which generally repeated the anti-Jewish canards about the cowardice of Jews, the “money mad” Jews, the incompetent Jew, etc. Jewish audiences laughed at this self denigrating “humor” and even sat still for all kinds of insulting remarks directed at old people. Ageism is of course a common American bigotry and therefore no less among Jews.

     As the Yiddish speaking Jewish community declined and American born Jews took their place, much of the “Jewish” humor was no longer understood, although it was spoken in English. Furthermore, Jewish Americans began to move out of the east coast to Florida and California, to Arizona and Texas, so that the Jewish community in the eastern cities was no longer as large as it had been. Then, more and more Jews intermarried, so that their non-Jewish spouses did not understand the subtleties of the “Kosher Alps” language and culture, nor were there very many Jews left by 1960 who kept the food laws. Moreover, Jews had risen in the American social strata, and could afford to vacation in far away places and avoid the Catskills.

     Today, the once famous hotels and resorts are closed. An effort has recently been made to reopen some of them in the form of casinos. The  Swan Lake Hotel is one of the few now operating in the Catskills. Otherwise, the “Kosher Alps” have become a part of American Jewish history.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Assassination, Anarchy, & Terrorism (2012).

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