Beginning in the 1920s with a heyday of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, the Catskill Mountains were home to many resorts, country clubs and camps that catered to a mainly Jewish population. So much so that the area in Sullivan County was called the Jewish Alps. The many performers who entertained there were called “Borscht Belt” comedians; named for the popular food dish.
All of the places are gone now — Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club was demolished earlier this year — Brickman’s, Browns Hotel, The Concord, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibber’s, Gilbert’s Grossinger’s, Granit, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, the Nevele, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, Silverman’s River View Hotel, Stevensville, Stiers, Tamarack Lodge, the Windsor and the Woodbine Hotel.
Several Five Towns natives and current residents remember those days as if they were yesterday. For many it was a time of maturity and great fun.
Jackie Spector Linder
Linder, 51, lived in North Woodmere Hewlett Neck, began going to Kutsher’s when she was 7. “I vacationed with my family at Kutsher’s throughout my childhood, and then began working there in the summer of 1980 in the main office/check-in desk under Helen Kutsher. I worked for Helen for two summers, and then became [a] dining room hostess for the summer of 1982.
“I won my first trophy at Kutsher’s Day Camp; I had my first real job at Kutsher’s and learned a lifetime of lessons from the incredible Helen Kutsher, and I had the joy of bringing my daughters to the hotel as guests. I grew up there and shared endless happy moments, vacations, laughs and I learned important life lessons that will stay will me forever. The Catskills were a safe and magical place, and I am grateful to have the memories.”
North Woodmere resident Parker, who describes his age as “60-plus,” spent nearly four decades of his life at Kutsher’s. “I had 35 years of affiliation with Kutsher’s Country Club and I was the co-director of their popular sleepaway camp, Camp Anawana. I worked my way up the ranks from camper to counselor, group leader and head counselor.
“My parents spent all the major holidays at the hotel with ‘their’ room directly over the main entrance. I had the opportunity to personally many great entertainers who were getting their start such as Red Buttons, Jackie Mason, Freddie Roman and more.
“Who knew that a bellhop that I befriended would become famous — Wilt Chamberlain! I am privileged to be part of the team preparing for the famous Maurice Stokes basketball game. My association with the famous Kutsher family extended beyond a job in that they helped celebrate my wedding.”
Cheryl Rothenberg Chaves
The Catskills was a land of “firsts” for Chaves, now also 60-plus, a Cedarhurst native. “I experienced a lot of ‘firsts’ in the Catskills. I experienced my first “puppy love” (with a waiter, of course!). I had my first kiss in the Catskills, rowed on a lake in my first rowboat, changed my clothing three times daily to match my activity, learned how to ice skate, and drank my first ‘Shirley Temple’ in my very first nightclub. I have wonderful memories of being an adolescent and learning how to be have in the company of grown-ups. Wonderful times!”
Cohen, 61, grew up in North Woodmere and remembers the Catskills and Kutsher’s as if he was Norm on the “Cheers television, “a place where everyone was your friend.”
“There was so many activities, and in those days the focus was on the outdoors and nature, unlike now. Now, everyone is addicted to their computer. Then, people went on long walks [through] the countryside, went exploring in the woods, enjoyed the famous lakes of the Catskills like Kiamesha, Lake Swan Lake, etc. Then, people enjoyed row boating and fishing. These were some of the finest pleasures and you didn’t need to be rich to enjoy them.
“Even food and entertainment was accessible. There were no such [people] as ‘scalpers’ to sell your tickets to shows in the Catskills — you didn’t need tickets — if you belonged to the hotel you went free! That’s not the case anymore in places like Las Vegas, Atlantic City or anywhere! The mountains had it all, and it was a rich man’s vacation, for very little. So hard to beat that it can no longer be replicated.”
Laurie Sue Bakay
A former Lawrence resident, Bakay, 61, said she enjoyed a variety of experiences during her time in the Catskills. “From ice skating at the Nevele to a family reunion at Tamarack to camp counselor at Camp David (once Esther Manor) to assisting magician Steve Rodman at a magic convention at Kutsher’s to buying our first alpacas (Bakay has an alpaca farm in North Carolina) across the road from the Villa Roma. The Catskills were a getaway destination for a our family, my whole childhood.”
A student at Sullivan County Community College from 1971-72, Klemow, 60, who grew up in Lawrence, worked between semesters in the coffee shop at the Concord Hotel. “It was hard. They made us work double shifts over the weekend. First on Friday night, come in and do the late shift after the show, and then they had us sleep in the staff house and then wake up by 5 a.m. so that the coffee shop would be open for business at 7.
“Then they sent us home and expected us back for the Saturday night rush. It was tough for a 19-year-old to keep those hours and be on your feet doe so many hours. I last only three weeks.
“The rest of my year at SCCC was going to socials, studying and enjoying the great outdoors of the mountains and lakes in the area. The winter was the coldest I could ever remember, but the spring was just beautiful.”
During World War II, Rothenberg, 91, a longtime Cedarhurst resident and mother of Cheryl Rothenberg Chaves, became a wife. “On Oct. 24, 144, I married my husband-soldier-boyfriend Edward, who was on furlough. We spent our honeymoon sat the Nevele Hotel in Fallsburgh. The management sent us a bottle of champagne to help us celebrate. My husband kept is cold by suspending it with string in the nearby lake. I will never forget that beautiful scenic area, the ambiance of the hotel and the caring staff.
From 1971-80, Harwin, 50, who lives in North Woodmere, and his family would head to the Catskills for the Jewish New Year. “We started at the Raleigh (Kennedy Wing) and graduated to Browns. There are too many memories to list. But I remember one night at dinner when the waiter spilled his tray of Borscht all over a woman and her mink coat. I found it hysterical. The woman did not.”
Woodmere resident Abrams, 56, spent time at the Concord Hotel with her family during the 1960s and ’70s. “We saw Stiller and Meara; Hines, Hines and Dad, Norm Crosby, Freddie Roman and other great acts. In the 1980s, I went to singles weekends at Grossinger’s and the Concord Hotel.”
North Woodmere Elysa Parker contributed to this article.