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Welcome to the Country

David Zaklikowski

What would you do if your home — a quiet spot with limited population, quiet tree-lined roads, and small-town hospitality — was suddenly overrun by tens of thousands of people? If those idyllic roads, usually the haunts of deer and pickup trucks, were choked by minivans? If those lazy streets where everyone knows everyone else were transformed into an ongoing parade of strange faces and unfamiliar figures? That’s how it is for the year-round residents of the Catskills.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

bowling in the countryFor ten months a year, they savor the quiet pace of country life. Then, when summer arrives, their towns see a huge influx of frum Jews hailing from the tristate area and beyond.

For some of the regulars, the yearly summer season is a gold mine, an unparalleled money-making opportunity. After all, those hordes of vacationers need food, entertainment, medical care, and services. Enterprising locals who meet those needs can’t help but appreciate the increased business.

For others, the bungalow colony culture is a blight on the landscape and the source of a two-month-long traffic jam (with weekly breaks for Shabbos). And some residents see the devout Jews as a cultural oddity with mysterious clothing and eating habits.

All of the residents — those who love the guests, those who can’t wait for them to leave, and those who tolerate them with a mixture of humor and curiosity — admit that summer in the Catskills is a cultural adjustment and learning experience.

Not Just Summers

“Some people think that we wouldn’t have a life without the visitors who come fromBrooklyn,” says Franny Kaiser, who manages one of the local bowling alleys. But that’s far from the case, she avers: “We are here and will be here, whether they come or not.”

Rabbi Benzion Chanowitz, Chabad shaliach and year-round resident of Monticello, echoes this sentiment. “There is a certain perspective that the frum people have. They think that after the summer, when they leave and the Jewish stores close, the entireMonticello is closed off with a fence.”

But that’s not the reality, he explains. “There are a lot of people who live here all year. Believe it or not, ShopRite is full during the winter and Walmart is doing lots of business.”

Still, that business doesn’t have the same swift tempo that it takes on in the summer, admits A.C. Patel, who together with his wife owns four of the local bowling alleys. The parking lot at Kiamesha Lanes is empty today, but Patel assures us that next week, when the vacationers are out in full force, it will be full. “We stay open much longer hours during the summer,” he says. “Every summer, there’s a 50-percent increase in visitors.”

The bowling alley, with its 20 or so lanes, serves the local community during the winter as well. “We have leagues during the winter. The locals can’t do much outdoors during the ice-cold freezing weather, so they come play here almost every night. During the summer months they want to hang out outside, enjoy the weather, and they hardly come to the bowling alley. It works out perfectly.”

As a summer rain shower spreads a wet blanket over the green outdoors, families of frum Jews begin to fill up the alley — and familiar music fills the air. “We have Yeshiva Boys Choir and other Jewish songs,” says Franny, Kiamesha Lanes’ manager. “The only complaint we receive is that we need to update our repertoire of Jewish songs — I guess these are outdated?”

Patel understands his crowd and their religious sensitivities. For the most part, he keeps the televisions off during the summer, and he kashers the in-house concession stand. “Every year, someone else manages the stand. I let him do what he wants and what he understands is right.”

The managers appreciate the increased customer base and respect the diversity of their religious patrons. But, confessed Patel, “we don’t like when those who don’t speak fluent English speak among themselves in another language. We got used to it and we know that they are not speaking about us, but sometimes people could get offended.”


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