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Jewish Journal

Remembering camp in Borscht Belt

by Bo Salsberg

August 18, 2014 | 3:28 pm

Baby boomers will revel in a nostalgic jaunt up and down the path to the Catskill Mountains.  Their parents and grandparents will remember the resorts and bungalow colonies where they spent many a summer with much fondness.  There has never been, nor will ever be another era that lured the tightly bonded groups of family and friends to New York’s famed Borscht Belt, summer after summer.

After its heyday came to a grinding halt in the 80’s most of the smaller resorts closed down.  The bungalow colonies that once dotted old Route #17 were the poor man’s Shangri-La.  It was the answer to the heat of New York’s steamy summer sidewalks.  Where else could the Jewish families of Brooklyn, The Bronx and North Jersey bask in the sun while enjoying the cool crystal lakes of the many villages and hamlets in Swan Lake, Monticello, South Fallsberg, Ellenville and Lake Kiamisha?  We were the envy of our towns.  Our families were going away for the summer, or at least for a month.  There was camp for the little kids, casinos for our parents and fun for the teenagers in the bungalow colonies.  The hotels offered so much for the families staying a week or two.  It was the forerunner of the common day floating hotel known today as cruising to the Caribbean; all inclusive, food, room, activities and shows.

After trudging upstate past The Red Apple Rest the trip heated up.  That was about the half-way mark to the bungalows and hotels. Everyone stopped at the Red Apple for a bite to eat.  Didn’t matter what time it was and you didn’t even have to be hungry.  That was where the caravan officially started.  Everyone left with their bellies full and began the drive up the winding back roads to the most wonderful places we knew.  We’d follow the “Bouncing Ball” to Kutschers, The Fallsview, The Nevelle, Stevensville, The Echo House, The Pines, The Laurels and for those of us who could afford it, The Concord to name a few.  

My heart cries out to the handsome young waiters in the massive dining rooms of the resorts I frequented as a teenager.  We helped the weary young men set and reset those huge tables after dinner so we could spend a little time with them in the evening.  For many of, it was our first crush.  Who would have thought they all had girlfriends back home and were working for the summer to help toward their college tuition?   

It’s all gone now but for the ruins.  The gilded memories will live forever.  The friendships we made hold a special place for us that our children and grandchildren will never know or understand.  We were the children back then. We grew up there but it was our parents and grandparents who made it happen.  They were the ones who carved out the memories and made it happen so that we could forever remember the Catskills…

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