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A Summer World: The Attempt to Build a Jewish Eden in the Catskills, from the Days of the Ghetto to the Rise and Decline of the Borscht Belt Hardcover – November 21, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0374271800 ISBN-10: 0374271801 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 21, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374271801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374271800
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a dearth of analysis and a surfeit of nostalgic name-dropping, this Catskill Mountain history by the author of A Journal of the Plague Years has the effervescence of seltzer gone flat. Early Jewish peddlers and farmers tried to eke out livings in the mountains, but, by the 20th century, Jewish resort owners flourished--touting fresh air and serving co-religionists spurned by gentile establishments. Yiddish superstar Boris Thomashevsky initiated entertainment in the region when he brought a troupe of actors to vacation with him. Later, singers like Eddie Fisher and Jan Peerce were launched there. Satirized by Jewish and secular newspapers, as well as by their own self-abnegating comedians, the Jewish Catskills became a symbol of bourgeois bad taste vis-a-vis food, sex, fashion, spouse hunting and social climbing. Today, once posh resorts now in decline have become condominiums, or serve nonkosher food to woo gentiles.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In 1899 the first Jewish boarding house in the Catskill Mountains opened to replace a failed farm, starting the successive flood of rooming houses, summer cottages, and resorts like Grossinger's and the Concord. Kanfer accurately evokes images of abundant kosher food, constant entertainment epitomized by the Borscht Belt comedians, and husband-hunting romance among the pines. He uses a variety of primary and secondary sources to document the Jewish presence in the Catskills and particularly the rise and fall of a specific era of vacationing, capturing the sense of loss during the latest transition to condos. This is an excellent chronicle of one facet of the Catskill Mountain's history. Recommended for large public and academic libraries.
- Susan Hamburger, Virginia State Lib . & Archives, Richmond
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
My interest in Jewish history was borne from my love of the Catskills in New York. Having grown up in a Jewish community provided me with a background that prompted many questions for which I never quite found answers. As a young person my favorite comedians were all Jewish-their sense of humor and timing was uncomparable. I could laugh and cry at the same time and it felt good. Upon venturing into the local library in my town upstate in the quest for answers to the whys and wherefores of the names around the Catskills and the pockets of Hasidic communities around my little town, I spotted Stefan Kanfer's hardbound book. A quick glance at the title and the jacket was all I needed to decide this was must reading. From the first few pages my fascination began with the accounts of the immigrants at the turn of the century from Russia settling in New York City and their reasons for looking for 'a land flowing with milk and honey'; their determination to make a living as peddlars of assorted wares; their 'at odds' relationship with other incoming Jewish immigrants; the origin of many of the words we use today; the notoriety of the little towns along Route 17 and the 'not-so-nice' goings on; the rise of the empires of the many Catskill hotels that started out as places for immigrants seeking a 'cure' from TB; the true (and perhaps unknown to many) story of the Grossinger family and others; how many famous comedians got their start in these hotels, (Daniel David Kaminsky for one) and learning the real names of these men and women was a pleasant surprise; and, finally, the sad decline of the summer exodus to the catskills by the succeeding generations as times changed.Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert S. Gartner on January 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Before I read Stefan Kanfer's book, "A Summer World," I put the blame for the decline of the Catskill hotel industry squarely on the shoulders of miserly owners. I remember going to places like The Pines and Brickman's and the Nevele way back in the early 70's and I remember how tired theses hotels looked. However, after reading his excellent study of these businesses and the region affectionately called the Borscht Belt, I realize that there were bigger reasons. Air conditioning and television, Disneyland, Disney World, Las Vegas, trendier vacation spots and hipper entertainment. The real estate the hotels sat on became more valuable for new summer homes for people trying to escape the crowded cities and suburbs. The children of Borscht Belt clientele found it embarrassing to go to places like the Concord and Grossinger's and Kutsher's and Brown's and Brickman's. They would rather go to the Jersey shore or sail on a cruise or fly to the Caribbean for Club Med. What made the Catskills so successful was also what made it decline: When it was alive and kicking, it was `the' place for Jewish vacations and when it started to decline, it was because it was thought to be a place where only Jews would go. Kanfer's book is a stroll down memory lane from the very beginning when a man known only as `Jacob the Jew' bought a plot of land near Livingston, NY to 1986 when Grossinger's was demolished. He covers just about everything and everyone that ever passed through this region from Joey Adams to Henny Youngman. Like Hollywood, however, we let it has slip through our fingers and disappear. For those people that have real memories of the Catskills, it will be a bittersweet trip. For people who have only heard about the legends from parents, aunts and uncles, it will be an amazing journey. Stefan Kanfer has done justice to this region that we can rightly call our own. It is a fine addition to anyone's bookshelf of Catskill lore.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By scott on December 10, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
to the Catskills and the heritage of those rounded hills, before the borsch belt and long after the glory years had past..the death of Jenny Grossinger was the death of the Borscht belt but those rounded hills over the Hudson wlll be with us till we die
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