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The City Folk are Coming

Malky Lowinger

You may call it “the country” — the idyllic place you’re headed to for the summer — but for a small segment of the frum population in New York State, it’s home. What’s it like for them when their quiet towns become flooded with fellow Jews?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

What’s it like to live in the small Upstate towns nestled in the Catskill Mountains — Fallsburg, Woodridge, Monticello, Ellenville, or others — places where you know everyone on your block and enjoy idyllic views from your kitchen windows all year-round, come sun or snow? How does it feel to be so immersed in nature that if you forget to secure the lid of your garbage cans, your home may be visited by a family of black bears foraging for food? And there’s also the annual mass migration of your fellow Jews to contend with when the weather warms up, their arrival dramatically altering the landscape for three months.    The Borscht Belt Reinvented Once upon a time, the Catskills was a thriving resort area where New York City’s secular Jewish families came to escape the heat. From the 1940s through the 1960s, the so-called “Borscht Belt’s” hotels, bungalows, resorts, and summer camps were filled with Ashkenazic immigrant Jews who came there to get away from it all. That era ended rather abruptly when air travel became more common, and the next generation of New York Jews preferred to vacation in more exotic places. Fast-forward several decades and the Catskill Mountains are experiencing a major renaissance as a popular vacation destination for city Yidden. But instead of slapstick comedy and late-night poker, this cohort of Jews occupy themselves with Torah study and shiurim. Along with the thousands of summer inhabitants come a network of shopping opportunities and conveniences, from kosher supermarkets and restaurants to Judaica stores and children’s clothing shops. And this time around, the swimming pools have separate hours and the children in camps sing songs by Yaakov Shwekey and 8th Day.    Yet at the end of the summer, even when the last box-laden vehicle hits Route 17, all vestiges of Yiddishkeit are not gone from the countryside. A close-knit, thriving community of several hundred frum families remains inSullivan and Ulster County, New York. And most of them say the same thing — their lives are slow-paced and very tranquil.

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