Forward Thinking

The Borscht Belt is Dead/Long Live the Borscht Belt!

By Blair Thornburgh

  • Print
  • Share Share

When it comes to Catskills tourism, it seems that everything old is news again. The mountainous region of upstate New York is trying to unbuckle itself from its “borscht belt” pigeonhole as a destination for Jewish city families by girding itself with new amenities to attract a hip and with-it tourist of today. The story’s got all the makings of a classic travel trend article–so classic, in fact, that it’s been written about once a decade since 1974.

A piece in this Tuesday’s New York Times called for “trout fishing [and] artisanal cheese.” Ten years ago, it was “meditation, yoga, and brown rice.” The watchwords of the brief 1980’s renaissance were second homes, swamis, and studio space, and in 1974, landowners in the southern Catskills cast envy on the larger resorts and lamented a lack of appeal in their forests and fields. Yet it was only two years earlier that halcyon days of art auctions, dance lessons, and saunas were still going strong throughout the area: “[resort owners’] volume of business has grown with every passing year”.

Even as the ranks of Orthodox Jewish vacationers swell, travel analysts fret that the stale image of yuk-yuk comedians and musty bungalows is keeping more mainstream tourists at arm’s length. And it’s clear that even before our brand-is-everything age, the story’s been that “Catskills” is unsexy as it is unshakable (and it doesn’t help that the dread “borscht belt” is an appellation so appealingly alliterative that no journalist can resist slipping it into the lede).

Looking back, it’s no wonder that this is where stuck-in-time folk hero Rip Van Winkle took his famous snooze. But no twenty-year nap will give the mountains the wrinkle in time it needs to weather a dry spell. Generation after generation, news cycle after news cycle, the Catskills’ beet-stained reputation just won’t budge. So why not embrace it? Maybe all today’s hipster travelers need is a place away from the city to exercise their ironic love for the outdated and obscure with the necessary updates to feel fresh. Keep the old-school style in the Catskills and who knows what will flourish–just make sure the borscht is vegan and locally grown and urban snobs will clamor to claim they were Catskills connoisseurs “before it was cool.” Just print up some brochures with the (almost) words of Rodney Dangerfield: “take a vacation here–please!”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: New York Times, Catskills, Borscht Belt

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.