Borscht Belt

borscht

jackie mason

Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York that were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s through the 1960s. The name comes from borscht, a beet soup that is popular in many Central and Eastern European countries and was brought from these regions by Ashkenazi Jewish and Slavic immigrants to the United States, where it remains a popular dish in these ethnic communities as well.

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 for the same cost as going to the Catskills, the new destinations began to win out. Equally important, domestic vacation destinations in Florida, California, the Southwest, as well as New England and even New York State itself, came within social reach of Jewish Americans, as the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened posh American hotels and resorts to Jews which had hitherto discriminated against them and others.

The tradition of Borscht Belt entertainment started in the early 20th century with the indoor and outdoor theaters constructed on a 40 acre (16-hectare) tract in Hunter, New York, by Yiddish theater star Boris Thomashefsky. Many prominent comedians who got their start or regularly performed in Borscht Belt.

Today the region is a summer home for many Orthodox Jewish families, primarily from the New York metropolitan area. It has many summer homes and bungalow colonies (including many of the historic colonies), as well as year-round dwellers. A few resorts remain in the region, though not many associated with the Borscht Belt Prime (including Kutsher’s Hotel, Villa Roma, Friar Tuck, and Soyuzivka, a Ukrainian cultural resort).

Plans are now in place by those who purchased former Borscht Belt resorts Concord Resort Hotel and Grossinger’s, for example, to work with Native Americans in an attempt to bring gambling to the region.

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