We spent our Memorial Day weekend a hundred miles north of New York City by retreating to the Catskills with our pups 🙂 Sometimes it’s really nice to unplug and get back to focusing on yourself and the people/pups that care for and need you the most. The Catskills have long been a haven for artists, musicians, and writers. Being up here allows me to focus on my work and brings me a sense of calm, nostalgic for my hometown of Olympia, Washington. We are definitely still in the East coast, as this area is commonly referred to as the “Borscht Belt” in reference to the rich Eastern European and American Jewish culture here. We passed scores of Jewish cemeteries on the way in and I’m reminded of how much cultural richness this part of the United States really offers its inhabitants.
My mama always talks about her summers at Camp Kindervelt where she and hundreds of Jewish children spent their summers in the 50s & 60s (think Dirty Dancing). A little backstory about her, she is a first generation American, born in Syracuse, NY whose parents emigrated to the United States after enduring the Holocaust in Poland and Lithuania.The first language she learned was Yiddish and had to go to a special school to learn English as a toddler. She actually credits her time in the Catskills for helping her become more “American,” very much learning from the ultra cool Long Island & New York City girls she spent time with every summer for eight weeks. Surprisingly, some of the relationships are still very much in tact almost fifty years later! Actor Gabriel Macht’s mother actually went to Kindervelt with my mom and they are still close.
My mother has a really eerie and phenomenal story she recently shared with me that brings some incredible perspective on how important this area was to the Jewish communities in the 1950s & 60s. One summer, during her first weeks at camp when she was nine years old, a strange man (another child’s father) grabbed her by the face when he saw her and exclaimed,”WHO ARE YOU? What is your name child?!” and proceeded to burst into tears.
He recognized she looked exactly like her late Aunt, Rachel, a Polish Jewish girl who perished in the Holocaust as a child. He grabbed my mothers hand and marched her to the Camp Headquarters demanding that she phone her father immediately.
She did as she was instructed and called her father in Syracuse. Her father was very surprised to hear from her “Tierkeit? Vos iz damer? Bist beseder?
“Daddy, there is man here who says he knows you.” And she handed the phone over to the emotional man.
When the man took the phone he could barely get the words out, “Yakov, its me – it’s me. You survived. I did, too. My daughter is here at the Camp. Yakov, it’s so good to hear your voice my friend.”
Although there were countless methods to identify surivivors after the war, many people were never able to find eachother again. Even with the efforts of the Red Cross and displaced persons camps. I think its incredible that these summer camps in the Catskills served as a vehicle for survivors to reconnect with one another through their children. Just a little personal anecdote from the Borscht Belt and why I always felt compelled to come “home” to the East Coast for a period of my life. I wanted to feel closer to the story of my family.