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The Catskills: Close to Home but Another World

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The old Borscht Belt resorts in the Catskill Mountains are undergoing a transformation from their storied past as Jewish playgrounds. A mega casino and hotel development is rising on the site of the long vacant Concord Hotel. An Indian-owned wellness resort is being built at the former Kutsher’s Hotel. But nestled in the woods are bungalow colonies and seasonal housing developments filled with Orthodox Jewish families and retirees, who come in the summer to enjoy the cool mountain air, parks and lakes, and well-developed kosher infrastructure. The once-thriving cities of Monticello, South Fallsburg and Liberty in Sullivan County look like ghost towns in the winter, with rows of empty storefronts. But during the summer the area comes back to life with a host of kosher stores and restaurants. Sullivan County is within a two-hour drive from Bergen and Essex counties, making it an ideal spot for a second home, day trip or weekend getaway.

Where To Stay

The hotels are largely gone but there are still a few that cater to a religious clientele, including The Raleigh (http://www.raleighhotelny.com) in South Fallsburg and The Chalet (845/ 434-5124) in Woodbourne. Both have upscale restaurants open to the public. Leah’s Hospitality Sweets in Woodridge is a bed-and-breakfast with a few available rooms in the owner’s home. Owner Leah Greenstein Thurm makes a hot breakfast on weekdays, and she calls guests in advance so she can customize cooking to their tastes. If you stay for Shabbos, she makes a full seudah for dinner and lunch. Farther north in Delaware County, the Oppenheimer’s Regis Hotel in Fleischmann’s (http://www.oppenheimersregis.com/index) is a full-service glatt-kosher hotel with a reputation for being welcoming and gracious, though not luxurious. Tannersville, near Hunter Mountain, has long been home to a thriving Orthodox community. Harris’s Happy Hideaway (www.harrishunter.com/index.htm) is a glatt-kosher bed-and-breakfast serving three meals daily and Shabbos meals. Springwell Manor advertises rooms in a motel, main house, cottage and lodge. Access to a dining room is available with your own food, which you can bring from home or purchase at a nearby kosher grocery, take-out and restaurant. The website includes a link to resources including shuls and attractions. Motels abound throughout the Catskills but if you want to stay for Shabbos, inquire about proximity to a shul.

It’s not too late to look into renting a place for one or two months. Bungalow colonies are known for their closeness to nature (not much more than plywood between you and the outdoors) and camaraderie. In recent years, many upscale developments have been built with substantial modern homes. Do some research to find the right community for you. Each one has a distinct hashkafa, personality and crowd—and more cliques than a high school.

If friends invite you to their summer home for a weekend, say yes, especially if you’re on your way to a camp visiting day. A stay in the Catskills breaks up the long drive.

Food, Glorious (Kosher) Food

Besides huge kosher supermarkets and large kosher sections in ShopRite and Walmart, there are dozens of restaurants from no-frills pizza joints to expensive steakhouses. At press time, contracts were still being negotiated for many eateries, according to Alan Hirsch, proprietor of The Country Vues, a weekly guide to the kosher Catskills. If you visit, pick up a copy for the most current information on shopping and events. The Vues also has excellent divrei Torah and the latest stats from the Orthodox Bungalow Baseball League (fondly known as the OBBL).

Woodbourne, a small area near South Fallsburg and Loch Sheldrake, has a main shopping area with exclusively kosher eateries. Le Chocolat is a coffeehouse with pastry and ice cream. Dougie’s has the familiar BBQ items plus sushi and takeout from Brooklyn’s Pomegranate. There are two competing pizza stores, a fruit and vegetable store, and kosher supermarket. Driving through Woodbourne on a Friday, though, is not for the faint of heart. Mountaintop Steakhouse, a full-service restaurant at the Chalet hotel, is a short drive from the main drag.

In Loch Sheldrake, Bonnie’s Place at Vacation Village, a Modern Orthodox community, is a relaxed, spacious restaurant with Chinese and American cuisine, and prepaid Shabbos meals. Bonnie also owns The Star Gelt Café, a dairy restaurant around the corner overlooking the lake. Star Gelt serves breakfast and lunch on an outdoor deck with a zippered enclosure for rainy days. Izzy’s Knish and Nosh serves eat-in or take-out pizza and knishes.

South Fallsburg has several casual dining spots with pizza, wraps and sushi. Landau’s is a full-service kosher supermarket. Gombo’s Bakery has fresh breads and pastries. The Prime Cut at the Raleigh hotel has prices in the stratosphere, but if you’re looking for elegance, many think it’s worth the cost, according to internet reviews.

Woodridge has its pizza shops and Coby’s Corner, a fleishig restaurant that has changed hands several times. Some years it has been the best restaurant in the Catskills. Other years, not so much. A mile down the road takes you to Center One, a kosher strip mall with a grocery store, bakery and Crunchies Restaurant.

In Monticello, Fialkoff’s Pizza is considered by many to be the best in the mountains. Across the street, the Heimishe bakery, also known as Fialkoff’s, has freshly baked challah and pastries and is known for their fruit rolls and onion rolls. Simply Sushi (you may know them from Grand and Essex in Bergenfield) serves sushi, wraps, knishes, salads and blended ice coffee. The Farmer’s Market has local fruits and vegetables and a variety of kosher staples. Across the street, Mountain Food also has a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, appetizing, bakery items and staples.

Attractions

Families with time and money will love Holiday Mountain Fun Park (HolidayMtn.com) in Monticello, a ski area that transforms itself into a summer amusement center. Play mini golf, practice in the batting cages, drive go-karts and play arcade games. For a tranquil boating trip, rent a rowboat or paddleboat at Morningside Park in Fallsburg. The park also has a playground and picnic area. For more advanced boating, Swinging Bridge Lake Marina in Mongaup Valley (http://www.swingingbridgelakemarina.com) and Payne’s Water Sports in White Lake (http://www.payneswatersports.com) have a full selection of motor boat rentals. Want to see the country on horseback? Villa Roma Saddle Club (www.VillaRoma.com) at the Villa Roma Resort (not kosher) in Callicoon has trail rides by reservation. Rolling Stone Ranch in Bethel (www.RollingStoneRanch.com) has English and Western riding lessons, and trail rides. If the kids want to see farm animals, Breezeway Farm (www.BreezewayFarmPettingZoo.com) in Monticello has a petting zoo and pony rides. Apple Pond Farm (www.ApplePondFarm.com) in Callicoon Center has tours and workshops for adults and children on cheese making; gardening; raising sheep, goats and chickens; and renewable energy. Play golf at Grossinger Country Club (www.grossingergolf.com) in Liberty, Lochmor Golf Club (www.lockmorgolf.com) in Loch Sheldrake, or Tarry Brae Golf Club (www.tarrybrae.com) in South Fallsburg.

Entertainment

The Forestburgh Playhouse (www.FBPplayhouse.org) is a country theater presenting revivals of popular Broadway shows, Tuesday through Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; matinees Wednesday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (www.bethelwoodscenter.org), built on the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival, has a variety of events all week, though most of the rock concerts are on Friday and Saturday nights. A museum on the grounds keeps the memory of the festival alive. The Seelig Theater (www.SunySullivan.edu) at the Sullivan Community College in Loch Sheldrake usually has concerts and lectures, but there is nothing on the calendar at this time. Shabbos Nachamu, this year on August 20, is usually a bustling time in the Catskills, with several concerts at night. Look for listings as it gets closer.

For a complete guide to attractions, sports and entertainment, order a brochure from the Sullivan County Visitors Association: http://www.scva.net/brochure/.

Don’t look for Jewish resources here, though. You would never know any exist from this guide.

By Bracha Schwartz

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