The former Granit Resort in 2015 as the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa, one of the last remaining Borscht Belt resorts in operation

Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the (now mostly defunct) summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in parts of Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties in New York. Borscht, a soup associated with immigrants from eastern Europe, was a symbolic way of saying "Jewish". These resorts were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews between the 1920s and the 1970s.[1] Beginning in the 1980s the growth of air travel made the Catskills less attractive.

Most Borscht Belt resorts hosted traveling Jewish comedians and musicians, and many who later became famous began their careers there.



Analogously to usage such as "Bible Belt", the term "Borscht Belt" references the geographic area in the Catskills in which lodges featured borscht,[citation needed] a beet-based soup popular among Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants who brought it to the United States. The dish in question is a traditional lunch or dinner staple of Russian, Polish and Ukrainian cuisine, typically served as the first course of an afternoon meal.


Borscht Belt hotels, bungalow colonies, summer camps, and קאָך-אַליינס kokh-aleyns (a Yiddish name for self-catered boarding houses, literally, "cook-alones") were frequented by middle and working class Jewish New Yorkers, mostly Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and their children and grandchildren, particularly in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s who, due to antisemitism, were often denied accommodation in hotels and vacation resorts. Because of this, the area was also nicknamed the Jewish Alps[citation needed] and "Solomon County"[citation needed] (a modification of Sullivan County), by many who visited there.

Thriving from as early as the 1920s through the 1970s,[2] nearly every notable Jewish comedian and entertainer of the 20th century would hone their skills performing at the numerous hotels that were built in the Sullivan County area. Fallsburg became the catalyst for American stand-up comedy.[3] Comedy legends Mel Blanc, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and Red Buttons would make an early living at the night clubs here, as would Hollywood stars Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, and Joan Rivers. Famed prize fighters like Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston,[4] and Muhammad Ali[5] trained here. Millions of tourists, especially New Yorkers, came to swim in the lakes or the oversized hotel pools, to ski or ice-skate[2] or even take lessons in golf, tennis, and dancing. No less than 538 hotels sprang up in this area of Eastern New York[2]

Well known resorts of the area included The Concord, Grossinger's, the Adler Hotel, Brickman's, Brown's Hotel, Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, the Nevele, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibber's, Gilbert's, Granit, the Woodbine Hotel, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Lansman's, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, Silverman's River View Hotel, Stevensville, Stiers, the Tamarack Lodge, the Olympic, and the Windsor Regency.

Two of the larger hotels in High View (north of Bloomingburg) were Shawanga Lodge[6] and the Overlook. One of the high points of Shawanga Lodge's existence came in 1959, when it was the site of a conference of scientists researching laser beams. The conference marked the start of serious research into lasers.[7] The hotel burned to the ground in 1973.[8]

The Overlook remains in a different form, no longer functioning as it was in its heyday. The Overlook had entertainment and summer lodging through the late 1960s and was operated by the Schrier family. It included a main building and about 50 other bungalows, plus a five-unit cottage just across the street.

Some of these hotels originated from farms that were established by immigrant Jews in the early part of the 20th century.

The New York, Ontario & Western Railway served the area with passenger service from Weehawken, New Jersey, until 1948. The railroad was abandoned in 1957. Despite the improvement of travel routes such as the original New York State Route 17, the area is no longer a major travel destination.

The decline of the Catskills resorts was apparent as early as 1965. Entertainment in America was changing as the country ushered in the jet age.[2] As ethnic barriers in the U.S. declined and air travel to distant resort locations became more convenient and affordable, Jewish American families in New York City reduced their patronage of Catskills resorts; by the early 1960s, between a quarter and a third of Grossinger's annual visitors were non-Jewish guests.[9] Even the universalization of air-conditioned hotels across America drew customers away from the aging resorts primarily built before this innovation became popular.[4] In the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, traditional resort vacations lost their appeal for many younger adults.[9] Smaller, more modest hotels such as Youngs Gap and the Ambassador found themselves in a niche with a vanishing clientele and closed by the end of the 1960s.[citation needed] By the mid-1990s, nearly 300 hotels and motels had gone out of business in Sullivan County.[4]

The 1970s took a toll on more lavish establishments such as the Flagler and The Laurels.[10] In 1986 Grossinger's closed for renovations, and the property was abandoned by new owners midway through the demolition and rebuilding of the old resort. Any benefit gained by Grossinger's largest historic rival (and the largest of all the Borscht Belt resorts), the Concord, was ephemeral, as the latter filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and closed a year later.

In 1987, New York's mayor Ed Koch proposed buying the Gibber Hotel in Kiamesha Lake to house the homeless. The idea was opposed by local officials.[11] The hotel instead became a religious school, like many old hotels in the Catskills.[12]


A large percentage of the region is a summer home for Orthodox Jewish families,[13] 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. It has its own year-round branch of the Orthodox Jewish volunteer emergency medical service, Hatzolah. A few resorts remain in the region, though not many associated with the Borscht Belt prime (including Kutsher's Hotel, Villa Roma, Soyuzivka, a Ukrainian cultural resort, and the Skazka, Xenia, and Hotel Pine resorts, which are Russian cultural resorts).[14][15][16]

Plans are now in place by those who purchased former Borscht Belt resorts Concord Resort Hotel and Grossinger's to work with American Indians in an attempt to bring gambling to the region. Because the Borscht Belt's prime has long passed and many of the resorts are abandoned, developers feel that this is the only way to revitalize the region to the popularity it once had by attracting guests to world-class casinos and resorts such as the ones in New Jersey and Connecticut.[citation needed] However, large-scale casino plans have not come to fruition, mainly because there are no Indian reservations anywhere near the area (the Mohawk tribe's effort to build a Catskills casino was rejected for this very reason). Instead, the state government has proposed legalizing off-reservation gambling, which will require a positive referendum; the referendum passed in November 2013.

The Heiden Hotel in South Fallsburg, which was the location of the movie Sweet Lorraine starring Maureen Stapleton, was destroyed by fire in May 2008.[17]

The Stevensville Hotel in Swan Lake, which was owned by the family of David G. Friehling, who pleaded guilty as an accomplice of Bernard Madoff, has reopened as the Swan Lake Resort Hotel.[18][19]

The former Homowack Lodge in Spring Glen, New York, was converted into a summer camp for Hassidic girls. Officials of the state Department of Health ordered the property evacuated in July 2009, citing health and safety violations.[20]

Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club hosted the United States edition of the music festival All Tomorrow's Parties in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In November 2013 it was sold to Veria Lifestyle, which plans to demolish the old resort and build a $90 million Nature Cure Lifestyle Management Center.[21]

The Granite currently operates as the Hudson Valley Resort.[22]

The Tamarack Lodge caught fire in 2012. Thirty buildings were partially or completely destroyed.[23]

The area has started to go through a revival as a destination for motorsports enthusiasts visiting the Monticello Motor Club. In 2012, the club announced expansion plans to attract professional racing, such as American Le Mans, Grand-Am and IndyCar, to the area.

By 2016, Sullivan County's Catskills had experienced a tremendous revival, with B&B's, restaurants, breweries, distilleries and a coming hotel-casino in the Town of Thompson. Artists and entertainers are again making their home here and showing up on the area's busy cultural calendars.

A new book, "The Catskills of Sullivan County: A Photography Journey", showcases the beauty of the area in the early 21st century.

The 1987 film Dirty Dancing reflects on the bygone era.

Comedic legacyEdit

See also: Jewish humor

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.

Comedians who got their start or regularly performed in Borscht Belt resorts include the following:

Borscht Belt humor refers to the rapid-fire, often self-deprecating style common to many of these performers and writers. Typical themes include

  • Bad luck: "When I was a kid, I was breast-fed by my father." (Dangerfield)
  • Puns: "Sire, the peasants are revolting!" "You said it. They stink on ice." (Harvey Korman as Count de Money (Monet) and Mel Brooks as King Louis XVI, in History of the World Part I)
  • Physical complaints and ailments (often relating to bowels and cramping): "My doctor said I was in terrible shape. I told him, 'I want a second opinion.' He said, 'All right, you're ugly too!'" "I told my doctor, 'This morning when I got up and saw myself in the mirror, I looked awful! What's wrong with me?' He replied, 'I don't know, but your eyesight is perfect!'" (Dangerfield)
  • Aggravating relatives and nagging wives: "My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met." (Dangerfield). "Take my wife—please!" (Henny Youngman); "My wife drowned in the pool because she was wearing so much jewelry." (Rickles); "My wife ain't too bright. One day our car got stolen. I said to her, 'Did you get a look at the guy?' She said, 'No, but I got the license number.'" (Dangerfield) "This morning the doorbell rang. I said 'Who is it?' He said 'It's the Boston strangler.' I said 'It's for you dear!'" (Youngman)

Some—but not all—of the modern Borscht Belt comedians, such as Don Rickles, Lenny Bruce, Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers, referred openly to Jews and anti-Semitism.

Also seen regularly at these Catskills resorts were a large number of singers, dancers, musicians, and other variety acts, including the following:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Jewish scholars study history, cultural significance of the Borscht Belt
  2. ^ a b c d "The Ruins of the Borscht Belt". Tablet. June 15, 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  3. ^ "The Last Catskills Resort". MetroFocus (WNET). January 6, 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-02. .
  4. ^ a b c Joe Matthews (July 23, 1997). "Unbuckling of the Borscht Belt". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  5. ^ "Fighting for the Borscht Belt". The Jewish Daily Forward. September 15, 2010. Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  6. ^ "History". Sha-wan-ga Lodge. Collection of photographs and memorabilia. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  7. ^ Hecht, Jeff (2005). Beam: the race to make the laser. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-19-514210-5. 
  8. ^ "Mamakating" by Monika A. Roosa, Arcadia Publishing, 2007, p. 29.
  9. ^ a b Jones, Abigail (September 27, 2013). "Beautiful ruins: The Catskills may be dying, but the memories live on". Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved October 27, 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Purnick, Joyce (1987-04-04). "Catskills Hotel Suggested For Homeless". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  12. ^ [1] Archived February 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Frankfurter, Yitzchok (Sep 15, 2013). "Ruins of the Borscht Belt". Ami. No. 136. p. 172. Retrieved Nov 2, 2016. 
  14. ^ "Skazka Resort". Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  15. ^ "Xenia Resort". Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  16. ^ "Hotel Pine". Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  17. ^ "Overnight fire destroys Heiden Hotel of 'Sweet Lorraine' fame". Times Herald Record. May 18, 2008. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  18. ^ Steve Israel. "Madoff mess has local link". Times Herald Record. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  19. ^ [2] Archived February 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Whitman, Victor (2009-07-16). "New York wants sect to leave old resort". Times Herald Record. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  21. ^ Valdez, Chris (2013-11-29). "Sale of Kutsher's finalized". Times Herald Record. Retrieved 2013-11-29. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Massive fire at Tamarack Lodge visible for miles". Retrieved 2012-04-08. 
  24. ^ As per Mandel himself in the film:"When Jews Were Funny"

External linksEdit