tinkll1 (tinkll1) wrote,

Nevele Grande Hotel in the Catskills

Being a native Chicagoan, the Borscht Belt was only a name in a place, far away, filled with New Yawkahs, and thick with a Jewish culture that was different from the Midwestern Jewish community. New Yorkers were louder, more aggressive, more self involved, more elitist, insufferably elitist! But, warm, assertive, energetic, creative, smart. All of these, from afar and by chance contact, and up close. My second wife and my second medical partner were New Yorkers, and both relationships eventually broke up, so perhaps I am not really, truly compatible with New Yorkers….. but they are interesting, and currently, I am submerged in New York Jewish Catskill Borscht Belt Elderhostel culture, and it’s a lot of fun.

The hotel is pretty large and pretty empty. This was strange on our arrival as it seemed to be nearly deserted. There is a definite air of faded glory, arrested development. More than that, I get the feeling that the place is hanging on by its fingernails. It isn’t really dusty in the areas that see frequent use, and the reception area and adjacent bathrooms have undergone a relatively recent renovation, but 75% of the hotel is not in use, and in stages of decay or deterioration. There is evidence of the glamour of the past in names like the Safari Lounge, the Stardust Ballroom. There is a plaque in the Tower building where we are staying. It says that President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson slept here in 1967. Hopefully, not in our room.

For the first time, since our stay, we missed the evening entertainment, and we regret it. The quality of the singers, Irene Stephens and Gene Ferrari, and the comedian, Dick Lord, was a pleasant surprise. Better than on the Silver Seas. I am not one to enjoy cabaret singing but I had a great time. Trouble is it starts at 9:30 PM, at a time when I’m winding down. Getting old, I guess.

Our classes begin at 9:15 AM after a typical breakfast, for me, of bagels and lox and yogurt. The first class is worth the whole trip. Psychoanalysis, the Jewish Science, taught by Alan Schneider, who keeps us on the edge of our seats. He is lively, informative and very humorous. A great teacher!

After a short break, we have a course with great potential that falls short because the instructor can not match his enthusiasm with adequate organization and editing. He probably could ten years ago, but I feel sorry for him at this time in his life. The subject is World War II and the Nazis: Unresolved Issues. The lectures have been on the American Nazi movement and Camp Siegfried on Long Island in 1938, The Spanish Civil War as an opportunity to stop Fascism, and the association of the American Eugenics movement with the German and Nazi movements. Great topics…. Poor execution.

The last course, after lunch, is Frequently Sung Songs by Unsung Composers, given by Herb Norman who had a career in radio and is an Emeritus Professor at Long Island University. He has a wealth of information and plays songs from the different eras with tidbits of information about the composers. Thoroughly entertaining, even for me, with little interest in popular music.

The food is kosher, and that isn’t a promising beginning, but in execution, it’s much better than much of what I remember from growing up. For instance, cheese blintzes and potato latkes are superb. The desserts are awful. The waiters work their tails off. The conversation at the tables is filled with New York/New Jersey accents….what else? Colorful, liberal politically.

We explored the areas around Ellinsville in the beautiful autumn colors of a chilly afternoon. The areas are in decline, in the main, with much evidence of what was in the glory days of the summer migrations from the pre-air conditioning heat of the city (New York and New Jersey.) For many reasons, including cheap travel, air conditioning, a decrease in the impact of anti-Semitism, the disappearance of the stay at home mom, etc., the Catskills are no longer the focus of Jewish social life during the summer months. The hotels and cottage communities that supported this yearly migration have greatly declined. The Nevele Grande is one of three surviving hotels, and seems to make it, barely, on group bookings, such as Elderhostel, the Sisterhood of a Jewish Congregation from New Jersey, and, to my surprise, the place will be full of Irish, nearly 700 of them, this weekend for some Irish event. This will probably not tax the kosher kitchen. I wish we could be here to watch this fascinating ethnic brew. That’s New York!

We will return home early, really early Saturday morning and I will watch UCLA’s losses to Oregon and Notre Dame, and then look forward to the Washington State-Bruin game, and not look forward to my desk after 2 weeks away!
Tags: catskills, yiddishkeit
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