Catskills Jewish History (The short, short version)

Growing up a secular Jew in the 1980s and 90s, the Catskills was a place mentioned by our grandparents, where Jews used to go en masse to sprawling country clubs.  What I knew of it was a trip to the Raleigh Hotel for a family reunion, where I met senior citizen relatives (and some younger ones) I didn’t know existed in the huge decaying Raleigh Hotel.  Even today, you can read many websites about what was the Jewish Catskills.  I thought that today there were some summer camps and a small Jewish community, but didn’t really have an inkling of what’s there.  The secular Jewish press is silent about today’s Jewish Catskills, and even in certain cases, actively refusing to acknowledge it (my comment trying to set straight a Huffington Post article about “the end of an era” for the Jewish Catskills was rejected – it was written politely, honest!). In reality, it’s probably more active than it ever was with Jewish activity . . . while two large hotels remain, the Raleigh which was bought by Bobov Chassidim and now a fully kosher hotel, and Kutscher’s which recently changed ownership and is having somewhat of a revival.  The nightclubs and golf courses have given way to sprawling summer Jewish communities and real Jewish life.

Stumbling Upon the New Jewish Catskills

In my seemingly ceaseless quest to find kosher places to travel, as my wife does not like to cook on vacation, I found a kosher bed and breakfast in the Catskills near the Ohave Shalom Synagogue in Woodridge, NY, founded in 1930.  This synagogue unbeknownst to me at the time, has three active minyanim a day throughout the entire year.  On a Shabbos walk, I was dumbfounded upon happening upon a strip mail with “Purple Pear North”, a larger version of a very nice restaurant in Monsey, NY.  Next to it is a large kosher supermarket.  I had no idea there was such a Jewish population in the Catskills to support this!  Nobody told me!  All I heard about was what it was, not what it is.  In addition, numerous small bungalow colonies were well within walking distance, though most were of the more run-down nature.

The next day, I continued my discoveries by car, to find plenty of larger, newer housing developments.  Some of these had two pools (one for men and one for women), beautiful tennis courts, daycamps . . . and Jews everywhere.  One can drive for miles in any direction from the center of Woodridge and find beautiful Jewish communities, some of them on large lakes and some of them which must have 1000 or more houses.

So the next summer, we took a family trip.  I wanted to get the full experience, so we rented a nice house in one of these developments for a week.  I won’t be posting information about which one it was, but suffice to say, we rented a family’s house which was only a few years old, had four bedrooms, central air conditioning, and two pools on site along with various sports fields, a synagogue, mikveh, and day camp (which we didn’t use).  You’re surrounded by a Jewish community and the kids can run and play freely anywhere on the grounds and be safe.

Below is a map of some of places to visit . . .

Map of Fun Things to Do in the Catskills


View Catskills Vacation Places in a larger map

Description of Some of the Fun Things to do in the Catskills

Here is a short description of some very fun things to do in the area, along with how long you can spend there:

White Lake – Rent boats, go banana boat riding, water-skiing, and swimming.  Half a day.

Frisbee Obstacle Course – open only on weekends, at the time of this writing.  Unknown time.

Holiday Mountain – Go carts, wall climbing, bumper cars, train, and an indoor padded room with lots of toys for toddlers.  Most of the day.

Kelder’s Farm – Pet the farm animals, hayrides, pick fruits and vegetables from a very large farm (drive through it), jump on the large pillow (it’s huge).  Half a day.

Horseback Riding – Jeffersonville.  Ride horses!  One hour rides.

Fishing – Livingston Manor, NY.  Unknown time.

Tube and Raft Rental – Raft down the river.  Need to be at least 12 years old.  Most of the day.

County Fair – Rhinebeck, NY.  Amusement park rides mostly.  Most of the day.

Old Rhinebeck Aerodome – Airshow.  The show is a bit cheesy and unnecessarily classless at times, but watching all the early 1900s planes fly makes for a nice show.  Half a day.

 

Selected Pictures

Climbing up the High Point Monument, High Point, NJ

Climbing up the High Point Monument, High Point, NJ

Pool in the Catskills - note the high walls around it for modesty.

Pool in the Catskills – note the high walls around it for modesty.

Rock Climbing at Holiday Mountain

Rock Climbing at Holiday Mountain

Rhinebeck Aerodome

Rhinebeck Aerodome

Banana Boat Ride on White Lake

Banana Boat Ride on White Lake

Jumping Pillow at Kelder's Farm

Jumping Pillow at Kelder’s Farm

Pick Your Own at Kelder's Farm (Note line of minivans)

Pick Your Own at Kelder’s Farm (Note line of minivans)

County Fair in Rhinebeck

County Fair in Rhinebeck

About the author: tostien

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