The Concord is still in Chapter 11, Carrie Komito has just sold the Aladdin to Hasidim, orthodox Jews have bought the Pines to develop condos, and Sunny Oaks may be sold to "Su Casa" an offshoot of the Woodstock generation. Clearly the Catskills that many of us lived through is disappearing at a geometrically progressive rate. It saddens us, but it also urges us anew to remember and to record. Thank you Cissie for Remember the Catskills, Phil for Catskill Culture, Eileen for Paradise, New York, and Irwin for Borscht Belt Bungalows, Abe and Clarence for Jewish Farmers of the Catskills, and David for The River and the Mountains. Your 1990's contributions have helped to preserve an era, and may they seerve as a prologue for future artists and scholars.
Once again our Sunny Oaks hosts were the Arensons, but this year our meeting was held the weekend before Labor Day, instead of our heretofore traditional date of Labor Day Weekend. Sal Kluger's bazaar was in full operation as we arrived on Friday, loaded down with his usual amazing assortment of Catskilliana and Judaica which was perused avidly and purchased with delight. Where else could you buy unused wax paper sandwich bags from Shmulka Bernstein's, differentiated even for "Corned Beef" or "Tongue?"
After an ample (naturally) dinner, tumler-at-heart Phil Brown was once again our official host welcoming us with good Catskill stand-up and better piano playing. Our Bard of Woodridge-on-Neversink (or winter address: Cambridge-on-Charles) also wrote a new short story "A Catskill Muse" which was given its maiden reading by the Sunny Oaks Troubadours, Phil, Sal Kluger and Irwin and Susan Richman. The house was now brought down. On Saturday after a substantial breakfast, we listened to some material that was very new to most of us when Amy Godine presented a paper "From Haimishe to Highbrow: The Adirondack Alternative" which centered on Jewish hotels, camps, and rooming houses in the Adirondacks which many of us could compare to and even more contrast with the Catskill experience. Did you know that working class Jews summered in Saratoga? Amy's research is fresh and exciting and we expect that it will be the germ of a significant publication.
After our traditional borscht and cold fish lunch, Martin Boris, the novelist whose Woodridge 1946 is so evocative of an era, introduced us to his new career as a free lance feature writer. He read us two pieces, "Grine Felder: The Yiddishist Bungalow Colony" which appeared in the B'nai B'rith Magazine and a recent manuscript on the Modjacot Spiel, a Jewish puppet theatre which performed in New York City but was born in the Catskills. Martin is now working on an article on one of the last of the great golden age Yiddish singers, Seymour Rexsite, and we expect to hear about Rexsite's Catskill experiences at a future conference. Next Eileen Pollack read from her novel Paradise, New York, which was just published (in October) by Temple University Press as its first novel. "Paradise" is Liberty and Eileen's reading about the relationship of an almost-hotel-princess and a surprisingly complex African American handyman, was superb (as was her performance two years ago). Now we all want to read the book.
The final session of the afternoon was another of Phil's coups. He found and invited Steve Gomer, the screenwriter and director of "Sweet Lorraine", The Ultimate Catskill Movie. Phil located the very youthful writer-director at a bungalow at the former Heiden hotel where he and his wife were spending a month or so with their family. "The Heiden" was the "Lorraine" of the movie. Steve enthralled the audience with his account of how the movie was made and of how personal it was as a reflection of his and his wife's family histories. His wife's parents, who used to own the Heiden, and his brother-in-law, a San Francisco surgeon who grew up at the hotel, were in the audience. Steve graciously lingered on after his presentation answering questions and chatting with the groups of fans. Good news is that he is doing the preliminary work on another Catskill movie. The better news is that it is to be a period piece.
After a well stuffed after dinner we heard a presentation by a Myra B. Young Armstead, based on her publication Seeking Our Fortune in the North: The African-American Population of Sullivan County, New York From 1930 to 1980. A native of Sullivan County, Dr. Armstead is on the faculty of Bard College. She combined scholarly information with personal observation as she introduced the audience to a little known aspect of Catskill history. For many years the African Americans played an important behind-the-scenes role in making Catskill summers possible at the hotels and other businesses where they worked. Blacks were attracted to the Catskills by both employment opportunities and the small town ambience which reminded them of the South. Most arrived here, after a stint in New York City. We capped off the evening by watching "Sweet Lorraine"-- with new insights thanks to Steve Gomer.
Sunday morning began with a breakfast featuring platters of lox to go with the bagels and cream cheese. Phil Brown read a short piece he wrote about spending a night in what was once his parent's borscht belt hotel and is now a chic country inn in White Lake. He then provided us with his unique mix of amusing tales and scholarly insights into the Golden Age and Golden Years of the hotels and the Jewish Catskills whose "Days dwindle down to a precious few."
From a son of the Catskills, we turned to the writings of a Jewish son of the South. Nashville, Tennessee native Steve Stern, now on the faculty of Skidmore College, read from his soon to be published novella,"The Wedding Jester," which was triggered by a visit he and his mother made to the Concord. The novella is a magical-realist work set in a Catskill resort very much like the Mastodon-on-Lake Kiamesha. Funny, raunchy and at times bordering obscene, and brilliantly written, his reading was all the more interesting because of Steve's southern pronunciations of familiar Yiddish words and phrases. He is perhaps the Jewish Robert Coover.
At 2:30-3:00 p.m., it was horror time when we once again watched the film "Let's Fall in Love: A Single's Weekend at the Concord." Once again married viewers hugged their mates. Singles swallowed Valium. An antidote followed: Henry Sapoznik's lively lecture/discussion "Klezmer: The First 500 Years." He never did get to cover all that time period, but the performer-scholar was entertaining and erudite and provided a great forspiesch (appetizer) for the concert at nine.
Next Irwin Richman introduced Murray Posner's videotaped 1983 guided tour of Brickmans Hotel. A lively discussion of the background and meanings of the tape ensued. And guess what, it was dinnertime! At 9:00 p.m. Conference goers, hotel guests, and lots and lots of outsiders jammed into the social hall for Freylekh, Freylekh! a Klezmer concert led by Henry Sapoznik (banjo and vocal), with Margot Leverett (clarinet), Owen Davidson (accordion), and Jason Sypher (bass). And another conference ended on an upbeat. Next year in ...? But, Jerusalem is out.