FROM THE PROLOGUE
Scattered across Sullivan and Ulster counties, New York, are the physical remains of the Borscht Belt. Structures of various sizes and diverse forms lie vacant, abandoned. Overcome by entropy and engulfed by their natural surroundings, these former resorts, hotels, and bungalow colonies are now decaying in a disused landscape, casting a gray shadow over a vibrant past.
For some people, these structures signify economic stagnation and cultural loss. For others, these former vacation destinations are eyesores, blights upon the land. Manicured compounds have been pillaged. Their lobbies, once elaborate, are adorned with graffiti, their foundations cracked and buckling. Insulation plunges from ceilings, moss cultivates the carpets, and swimming pools have become shallow ponds tinted green with algae. But to me, these discarded places are artifacts of time, evidence of change, and settings of intrigue.
The remains of the Borscht Belt evoke something great that is no longer.“
ABOUT THE BOOK
Today the Borscht Belt is recalled through the nostalgic lens of summer swims, Saturday night dances and comedy performances. But its current state, like that of many other formerly glorious regions, is nothing like its earlier status. Forgotten about and exhausted, much of its structural environment has been left to decay. The Borscht Belt, which features essays by Stefan Kanfer and Jenna Weissman Joselit, presents Marisa Scheinfeld's photographs of abandoned sites where resorts, hotels and bungalow colonies once boomed in the Catskill Mountain region of upstate New York.
The book assembles images Scheinfeld has shot inside and outside locations that once buzzed with life as year-round havens for generations of people. Some of the structures have been lying abandoned for periods ranging from four to twenty years, depending on the specific hotel, or bungalow colony, and the conditions under which it closed. Other sites ave since been demolished, or repurposed, making this book an even more significant documentation of a pivotal era in American Jewish history.
The Borscht Belt, presents a contemporary view of more than forty hotel and bungalow sites. From entire expanses of abandoned properties to small lots containing drained swimming pools, the remains of the Borscht Belt era now lie forgotten, overgrown and vacant. In the absence of human activity, nature has reclaimed the sites, having encroached upon or completely overtaken them. Many of the interiors have been vandalized or marked by paintball players and graffiti artists. Each ruin lies radically altered by the elements and effects of time. Scheinfeld's images record all of these developments.
Marisa Scheinfeld's photography has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is among the collections of Yeshiva University Museum at The Center for Jewish History, The National Yiddish Book Center, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, and The Edmund and Nancy K. Dubois Library at the Museum of Photographic Arts.
Stefan Kanfer is a contributing editor of City Journal and the author of 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.
Jenna Weissman Joselit is Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of History at The George Washington University, where she also directs two graduate programs in Jewish cultural arts. She is the author of The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950 and A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America.
Marisa Scheinfeld was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1980 and raised in the Catskills. She received a B.A. from the State University at Albany in 2002, and a MFA from San Diego State University in 2011. Her work is highly motivated by her interesting the ruin, or site, and the histories embedded within them. She is a frequent guest lecturer and her photographs have been exhibited widely throughout the United States and in the UK.
Marisa's work is among the collections of Yeshiva University Museum, The National Yiddish Book Center, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art & Life, The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, CA, The Edmund and Nancy K. Dubois Library at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, CA, Lynn Kroll, and The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation in New York, NY. Her work has appeared publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Slate Magazine, The Jewish Daily Forward, American Photography, Village Voice and The Jerusalem Post.
On October 4, 2016, Cornell University Press released The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America's Jewish Vacationland.
Marisa is an Adjunct Professor of Photography at SUNY Purchase and Westchester Community College and is currently working on her second book.
JENNA WEISSMAN JOSELIT
Jenna Weissman Joselit, the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of History at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is a historian of daily life, especially that of America's Jews. The author of The Wonders of America and A Perfect Fit as well as a forthcoming book on America's relationship to the Ten Commandments, she also writes for The Forward, where her monthly column is now in its 16th consecutive year of publication.
Stefan Kanfer is a contributing editor of City Journal. He writes extensively on a wide range of political, social and cultural topics. Kanfer's most recent City Journal feature, "City Lights," discussed the long line of literary personalities who made New York City their home, ranging from Washington Irving to Edith Warton to Norman Mailer. Kanfer is the author of more than a dozen books, among them cultural histories (The Last Empire, the story of the De Beers diamond company), Stardust Lost, about the triumph and tragedy of the Yiddish Theater in America, and 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. Kanfer wrote and edited at Time for more than 20 years, during which he was a cinema and theater reviewer and essayist, and for a decade, senior editor of the magazine's book review section. Kanfer was installed as Literary Lion at the New York Public Library, has been a writer-in-residence at CUNY, a visiting professor at SUNY Purchase and Wesleyan University, and was the only Time writer to win the Penney-Missouri School of Journalism and the Westchester Writers Prize.
Abandoned buildings and properties are dangerous places—walls could be unstable, floors may give way, and open terrain could be littered with sharp metal and glass. Any visitor should take every precaution to be safe when exploring such sites. Wear proper clothing, gloves, and boots to manage what can be safely managed, and entirely avoid areas, particularly inside buildings, where one cannot be sure of the soundness of foundations, walls, floors, and roofs.
Many sites are also private property, and the present owner should be consulted before walking the grounds. In all instances be respectful of the site, observe your surroundings, and neither leave anything behind nor take anything away with you.