Borscht Belt/ Catskill hotel staff reunion 2.0 planned for April - BlueStone Press
February 19, 2020

Borscht Belt/ Catskill hotel staff reunion 2.0 planned for April

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Last May’s get-together was so successful that they’re going to do it again: All former waiters, lifeguards, social directors, entertainers – in short, all former employees of the bygone Borscht Belt resorts, hotels and bungalow colonies are invited to be guests for a change at the Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon for Reunion 2.0.

If you missed it last year, or if you had a great time last year and want to go again, here’s another chance to get together with others who share memories of a certain unforgettable time and place. Attendees can go for an entire weekend or only for the Saturday night dinner-dance, which will feature a live band playing the dance music of the ’50s and ’60s plus a comedian headliner, just like the old days. (And a DJ, not like the old days.)

Activities planned for the weekend will include a Friday night mixer and a series of talks with a slew of authors who have written books about the Borscht Belt era, including Marisa Scheinfeld, Eileen Freed Lindenblatt, Eileen Pollack, Barry Lewis, Ross Padluck, Allen Frishman, Linda Morganstein and Elliott Udell, as well as Sullivan County historian John Conway and New York Times reporter/documentary film writer Andrew Jacobs.

Robin Kauffman, one of the organizers of Reunion 2.0, said she was looking forward to “what is perhaps the most moving [event], the end of our authors’ hour program planned for Sunday morning. This is when program participants will have the opportunity to share personal favorite memories/stories/highlights of their time spent in the Borscht Belt. Last year, grown men and women were brought to tears listening to many of the very special stories. Some of the stories were even recorded by a few of the authors in attendance, who said they were going to include them in their next books!”

The Villa Roma is one of the few survivors of the golden era of those ethnically focused resort hotels that used to be such a vital part of Ulster and Sullivan counties. The Roma was part of the “Italian Alps,” a separate mountain kingdom complementing the “Jewish Alps,” which included the Nevele, the former Granit (renamed the Hudson Valley Resort), and so many more.

Glenn Pomerantz of Kerhonkson, who attended last year, commented, “The reunion was awesome. Good mixers. Good presentations. The banquet had good food and entertainment. Hotel was nice.” Most of all, he said, it was “a great opportunity to meet with many who you knew (or didn't know) but had the same experiences ‘growing up’ in the Catskills hotels.” 

The Borscht Belt was a cultural creation unique to the Catskills. Several movies have attempted to capture its flavor, some more successfully than others. Pomerantz said, “If you saw ‘Dirty Dancing,’ it was nothing like that. Watch the movie ‘Sweet Lorraine.’ That was more representative of the real Catskills.” (Another one worth watching, particularly for veterans of the countless hotel bands, is “The Gig.”)

Many of those who were part of that culture will tell you that they were shaped by the experience. Kauffman said, “The Borscht Belt era, for many former hotel staffers, was like our very own Camelot/Eden. We worked hard and we also played hard and learned a lot about life … and how to treat people. At the time, we had no idea we were making history – we were truly one of the pillars of a time that changed the landscape of American history. We impacted thousands of lives (the guests, other staff), and they also impacted our lives. Despite working in many different hotels, we all seem to have had the same wonderful learning experiences that we would take to adulthood.”

Pomerantz, who was a waiter at Kerhonkson’s long-gone Brookside Hotel for five summers, commented, “Working in the Catskills as a servant of any sort taught you many lessons. Things like ... the customer is always right. The owners are always right. Don't piss off the chef in the kitchen. Take care of your guests and you'll be rewarded (tips). Everyone should do a service job of some sort in their life. Nowhere else does it teach you that doing a good job will give you near immediate rewards and doing a bad job will result in you making less money … I put myself through college on the tips I made. It was probably the hardest work many of us have ever done, but with the greatest experiences.”

He added, “I'll go out on a limb here… I've always said, if you can deal with old, hungry Jews, you can handle anything in life!”  

 

Catskill Reunion 2.0

April 24-26 at the Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center, Callicoon

For more information about the reunion and how to register for it, email rmkauff100@cox.net or call 401-487-9646.

 

 

 

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