Borscht Belt

Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in parts of Sullivan, Orange and Ulster Counties in upstate New York, United States. These resorts were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s through the 1960s.[1]


The word comes from borscht, a soup of Ukrainian origin, made with beetroot as the main ingredient giving it a deep reddish-purple color,[2] that is popular in many Central and Eastern European countries and brought by Ashkenazi Jewish and Slavic immigrants to the United States.


Borscht Belt hotels, bungalow colonies, summer camps, and kuchaleyns (a Yiddish name for self-catered boarding houses) were visited often by middle and working-class Jewish New Yorkers, mostly Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe and their children and grandchildren, particularly in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.[citation needed] Because of this, this area was nicknamed the Jewish Alps and "Solomon County" (a modification of Sullivan County) by many people who visited there.[citation needed] Resorts of the area included Brickman's, Brown's, The Concord, Grossinger's, Granit, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, the Nevele, Friar Tuck Inn, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, the Overlook, the Tamarack Lodge, Stevensville and the Windsor. Some of these hotels originated from farms that were established by immigrant Jews in the early part of the 20th century.[3]

Two of the larger hotels in High View (just north of Bloomingburg) were Shawanga Lodge 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.[4] The hotel burned to the ground in 1973.[5]

The Overlook had entertainment and summer lodging for many years through the late 1960s and was operated by the Schrier family. It included a main building, about 50 other bungalows, and a five-unit cottage just across the street.[citation needed]

Despite the upgrade of old travel routes such as old New York State Route 17 the area declined as a travel destination after World War II, with the increase of air travel allowing families to visit more far-off destinations.[citation needed]

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.[6] The hotel instead became the religious school Yeshiva Viznitz.[7]

21st centuryEdit

As of the 2010s, the region is a summer home for many Orthodox Jewish families, primarily from the New York metropolitan area.[citation needed] 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, including Villa Roma, Friar Tuck, and Soyuzivka, a Ukrainian cultural resort).[citation needed]

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.[8]

The Stevensville Hotel in Swan Lake, owned by the family of accused Bernard Madoff accomplice David G. Friehling, reopened as the Swan Lake Resort Hotel.[9]

The former Homowack Lodge in Phillipsport 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.[10]

Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club has hosted the United States edition of the music festival All Tomorrow's Parties in 2008, 2009, and 2010.[citation needed]

Comedic legacyEdit

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.[citation needed]

A cradle of American Jewish comedy since the 1920s, the Borscht Belt entertainment circuit has helped launch the careers of many famous comedians and acted as a launchpad for those just starting out.[11]

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

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

  • Bad luck
  • 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)

Popular cultureEdit

These resorts have been the setting for movies such as Dirty Dancing (Kutscher's), Sweet Lorraine, and A Walk on the Moon.

Characters inspired by Borscht Belt comics include Billy Crystal's Buddy Young Jr. from Mr. Saturday Night and Robert Smigel's Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.

In the 1960 film Murder, Inc., Walter Sage (Morey Amsterdam) is shown performing at the fictional Ribbon Lodge in the Catskills.

In the 1976 film The Front, set in 1953, comedian Hecky Brown (Zero Mostel), harrassed by HUAC, has an ill-fated gig in the Catskills.

In the film Sleepers, a poster for Sonny Liston is seen on the wall of Robert De Niro's apartment and shows the Pines Resort as the location of the fight. The scene is when they are talking about the defense of the trial and De Niro's talk to Jason Patric and Minnie Driver

In the online game Mobsters, A Borscht Belt Comedian is a henchmen needed for a mission involving taking over a Catskill Resort.

The early-20th-century Jewish experience of vacationing in the Catskills was recounted in the graphic short story "Cookalein" by Will Eisner. The story appears in Eisner's collection A Contract with God.

The novel Marjorie Morningstar was about the same era and locale, but the corresponding film was made in the Adirondacks rather than the Catskills.

Several episodes of Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are set in the Catskills and depict Catskill resort living in detail.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Jewish scholars study history, cultural significance of the Borscht Belt" (Press release). Providence, Rhose Island: Brown University. Archived from the original on December 3, 2019.
  2. ^ Schultze, Sydney (2000). Culture and Customs of Russia. Series: Cultures and Customs of the World. Greenwood. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-0313311017. The very poor might have few vegetables in the soup other than cabbage, making it shchi, or if it also had beets it was considered borscht. Borscht, actually Ukranian in origin....
  3. ^ Finkelstein, Norman H. (2014-01-01). Jewish Comedy Stars: Classic to Cutting Edge. Kar-Ben Publishing ™. ISBN 978-1-5124-9029-9.
  4. ^ Hecht, Jeff (2005). Beam: the race to make the laser. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780195142105.
  5. ^ "Mamakating" by Monika A. Roosa, Arcadia Publishing, 2007, p. 29
  6. ^ Purnick, Joyce (1987-04-04). "Catskills Hotel Suggested For Homeless". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
  7. ^ "Hotels and Bungalows". Providence, Rhode Island: The Catskills Institute, Brown University. Archived from the original on January 30, 2019. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  8. ^ "Overnight Fire Destroys Heiden Hotel of 'Sweet Lorraine' fame". Times Herald-Record. Middletown, New York. May 18, 2008. Archived from the original on September 1, 2019. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  9. ^ Israel, Steve (March 22, 2009). "Madoff mess has local link". Times Herald-Record. Middletown, New York. Archived from the original on September 1, 2019. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  10. ^ Whitman, Victor (2009-07-16). "New York wants sect to leave old resort". Times Herald Record. Middletown, New York. Archived from the original on June 28, 2020. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
  11. ^ "Yada Yada Yada: 15 Greatest Moments in Jewish Comedy History". Tel Aviv, Israel: Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. December 18, 2018. Archived from the original on June 28, 2020.

External linksEdit