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About the Institute

At the turn of the 19th century the celebrated Jewish resort area started in the Sullivan and Ulster County Catskills. New Yorkers hungry for mountain air, good food and the American way of leisure came to the mountains by the thousands, and by the 1950s a Hlf-million people each year inhabited the "summer world" of bungalow colonies, summer camps and small hotels.

These institutions shaped American Jewish culture, enabling Jews to become more American while at the same time introducing the American public to immigrant Jewish culture. Home-grown Borscht Belt entertainment provided America with a rich supply of comedians, musicians and performers. Legions of young men and women used the Catskills as a springboard to successful careers and marriages. The hotels and summer camps of the area provided jobs to thousands of college students who relied on their wages and tips to finance the education that would catapult them (or so they hoped) into the higher reaches of American society. We suspect that Richard Feynman, the Princeton physicist, was not the only Nobel Prize winner to bus tables in the Catskills.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Jewish Catskills reached the pinnacle of its history, and starting in the 1970s declined till the point where only a handful of major resorts remain. The once-teeming roads of the Catskills are largely barren, with most hotels and bungalow colonies burned, decayed, or destroyed. Many who worked and vacationed there are growing old and may not be able to provide their history in a short while. There is precious little time left for scholars, educators, artists, and others to save what remnants there are and to preserve the legacy of this monumental Jewish-American cultural phenomenon.

The Catskills Institute was created by the organizing committee of the History of the Catskills conference that was held in Woodridge, New York on Labor Day Weekend 1995. The energy and interest from the first conference has led to the formation of the Catskills Institute, an organization to promote research and education on the significance of the Catskill Mountains for Jewish-American life.

Our accomplishments include:

There is always room for volunteers to help in these many tasks. We really want your help in working on these -- get in touch!