The Catskills 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 half-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 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. The Catskills Institute website was originally developed and hosted at Brown University, and moved to Northeastern University in 2015.

Our accomplishments include:

  • Huge website with thousands of graphics, list of hotels and bungalow colonies, book list, self-posting bulletin board, links to other Catskills websites, fiction and nonfiction writing
  • 13 annual History of the Catskills Conferences
  • Creation of the world’s largest archive of material on the Jewish Catskills
  • Periodic newsletter
  • Genealogical assistance
  • Assistance with research queries and reunions
  • Research infrastructure and support for scholars
  • Maintain a listserv on the Internet to provide interactive exchange on Catskills events
  • Assist in developing exhibitions at museums (Jewish Museum of Maryland, Spertus Museum, Museum of Jewish Heritage), synagogues, and Jewish Community Centers
  • Teach courses on the Jewish Catskills at Brown University and Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg
  • Speak at universities, synagogues, and Jewish Community Centers

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