For several decades in the 20th century, bungalow colonies and resorts in the Catskills, a mountain range north/northwest of New York City, became a summer playground for Jewish American families. Nicknamed “The Borscht Belt” or “Jewish Alps,” at one time there were as many as 500 resorts and additional bungalow colonies catering to vacationers of different income levels.
Part of the popularity stemmed from antisemitic policies at hotels around the country, some of which specifically noted “no Hebrews” in their advertising. For observant Jews, even a resort that welcomed people of all faiths wasn’t a kosher resort. The Catskills resorts offered American Jews a safe place to vacation, kosher dining, excellent outdoor facilities, fantastic musical and comic entertainment, and for New York City-area residents, a convenient getaway.
In the 1960s, as antisemitism declined around the United States, the appeal of the Catskills resorts also declined. Many Jewish Americans no longer wanted to go to the same place every summer and meet many of the same people. Interfaith marriage meant new traditions, including vacation destinations. And air travel increased in popularity, giving vacationers easier access to other places.
The Museum’s Permanent Collection contains objects documenting summer life in the Borscht Belt. Scroll through the slideshow below for some photographs taken by James D. Jacobs, a photographer (1920 – 2012) whoe images of Jewish vacation life offer a window into the gleaming reception halls and sunny pool sides of the popular summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains. Born in the Bronx, Jacobs summered in the Catskills and eventually moved there permanently to become the co-owner and photographer of the Fallsburg Printing Company and FPC Advertising Agency. He also taught photography at Sullivan County Community College and was active with his wife Julia at Sullivan Performing Arts and the Sullivan County Dramatic Workshop.