Academic journal article Film & History

The Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt (1987)

Academic journal article Film & History

The Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt (1987)

Article excerpt

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE BORSCHT BELT (1987)

Peter Davis, director

During the twentieth century, Jewish immigrants and their descendants created the so-called "Borscht Belt"-an agglomeration of cottages, hotels, and entertainment venues that catered to a Jewish clientele-in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt, produced and directed by Peter Davis, chronicles the history of this unique corner of American popular culture.

Davis contends that the Borscht Belt emerged from two impulses: the desire of Jews to become American, while at the same time to enjoy recreation sensitive to Jewish culture. In the early decades of the twentieth century, a handful of Jews left the crowded conditions of New York City and purchased farms in the Catskills. These lands were marginal and unprofitable, so the farmers began to host Jewish vacationers seeking escape from the city. By the 1920s, the automobile and the improvement of highways made the Catskills a popular destination for urban Jews. Accommodations ranged from bungalow communities and boarding houses for the working class to hotels for the more affluent. It was common for men to send their families to the Catskills for weeks at a time, and come up from the city themselves on weekends. The Catskills also became known as a place to meet a potential mate. The Hotel Brickman, for example, had a portion of their facility known as the "College Campus" where young lovers could stroll along "Flirtation Walk."

The prosperous post- World War II years saw a building boom in the Catskills. Davis notes that Jews had become "successful and accepted Americans" but were "still drawn to the mountains" and its familiar cultural environment. Various forms of entertainment grew up around the region, ranging "from burlesque to nightclub to Broadway," all strongly influenced by Yiddish theater. …

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