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August 29, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 29, 2014 Finding the Goldbergs: A Catskills mystery unraveled Paula Goldberg In the 1950s, during the heyday of this Catskills bungalow colony, 10 women shared the single kitchen. in through the window and spread over much of the ceil- ing. Mold was having its way with the walls. I had come to the Catskills hoping to get one last look at Kutsher's, the last of the great Borscht Belt resorts, after hearing the news that its demolitionwas imminent. For much of the 20th century, Kutsher's and other Jewish hotels like it helped make the Catskills the summer des- tination of choice for New York Jews. But when I reached the mountains a few days later, I found the roads leading to Kutsher's blocked by chains and sawhorses posted with warnings against trespass- ing into the hard-hat zone. I tried to make my way on foot, wading through wet, overgrown grass, but three burly construction workers spotted me and I was forced to beat a hasty retreat. Which is how I found my way into a crumbling bun- galow colony at the edge of Kutsher's 1,500 acres. Aside from the main house with 10 bedrooms and side building with a dining room By Uriel Heilman In some corners it ap- peared as if the residents were MONTICELLO, N.Y. just out for the afternoon. (JTA)--ThemomentIkicked Pictures and tchotchkes in the door ofthe abandoned adornedthewalis.Amezuzah house in the heart of the with the parchment still in- Catskills, I felt like I was in sidewasaffixedtoadoorpost. an episode of "The Twilight A working upright piano sat Zone: Borscht Belt edition." in one corner. Ironing boards were open. Mattresses lay on beds; in one room the beds were still half-made. But elsewhere, things were in a state of advanced decay. The roofoer the kitchen had caved in. The sink was over- flowing with rotting leaves. In a bedroom, vines poured TO YOUR FRIENDS AND RELATIVES WITHOUT LICKING A STAMP If you're like most people, you'll probably wait until the last minute to send your annual Jewish New Year greetings. And, like most people, you will probably truly regret having waited so long. However, once a year, prior to Rosh Hashanah, you have the opportunity to wish your family and friends and the Jewish community "A Happy and Healthy New Year" through the Special Rosh Hashanah Edition of HERITAGE. No Postage -- No Problems -- No Excuses! Having your personal NewYear Greeting appear in the HERITAGE Special Rosh Hashanah Edition, shortly before the holiday begins, will save you time, money, inconvenience and worry about whether or not your cards were delivered.You won't leave anyone out, because your family and friends will be among the thousands of members of the Jewish community reading this special edition. Deadline for Greetings is September 10, 2014. A $19.70 l'x 2" D $78.80 31/4"x 4" BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY NEW YEAR May the New year be ever joyous you and your Family (Or your personal message) E DATE OF ISSUE: $98.50 31'4"X 5" September 19, 2014 L'Shana Tova Tikatevu (Or your personal message) YOUR NAME B $39.40 3u4"x 2" REETINGS AND BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY NEW YEAR (Or your personal message) YOUR NAME C $59.10 31/4"X 3" "7 YOUR NAME May you be inscribed inthe Booko/Liye fora Hapfly and Hea-00hy Year (or your personal message) YOUR NAME Mail to: HERITAGE GREETING, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730 Please run my greeting in your holiday issue. I would like ad (circle one) A B C D E. I am enclosing a check in the amount of $ (all ads must be paid for in advance). Or please bill my credit card (check one): Visa Master Card: Card No. [ Expiration Date Signature I Name l Address City/State/Zip I Name(s) on greeting should read: L If you have any questions, call HERITAGE at 407-834-8787. I .J and kitchen that I had broken into, there were a handful of bungalows, a pool and a lake. The buildings all were vacant, in varying states of disrepair and overcome by nature. One room had halfa dozen ovens and refrigerators. Opening one fridge, I half expected to find a cold can of Tab. No dice. In the corner of what appeared to be the liv- ing room, there was a public telephone. I picked it up. No dial tone. Most of the bedrooms were disheveled or empty, but in one I found toiletries and a shoeshine kit carefully ar- ranged on the dresser, three drab but clean dresses hang- ing in the closet, and a shelf filled with unused legal pads and blank paper. Then I spotted the first clue towho may have lived here. Tucked into the mirror was a photograph of four happy- looking elderly couples pos- ing in front of the lake out back now obscured by foliage. Their names were carefully inscribed on the back: Nat & Sylvia, Herman & Eleanor, Milton & Norma, Jack & Charlotte. There was also a date: August 2001. Who were these people and why did they leave? What purpose did this odd house serve? Were the people in the photo still alive? When was the house last occupied? This being the age of the Internet, it took less than an hour of sleuthing, a credit card and $3.95 to unravel the mystery of this strange Catskills time capsule. The simple part was fig- uring out who lived there. An address label affixed to some shelves in the bedroom with the shoeshine kit read Goldberg. That matched the name on a Jewish National Fund Tree-in-Israel cer- tificate posted on the wall in another room. Along with the photograph I found, I had my target couple: Nat and Sylvia Goldberg. Combing through online directories and death notices, it didn't take long to locate family members. Soon I had Nat and Sylvia's daughter, Judy Viteli, on the line. She almost cried when I told her where I had been. "Ah, the kochelein," she said wistfully. The what? "The kochelein," she said. "It's a Yiddish word." Over the course of several conversations, including one in which we went through old pictures at her kitchen table, Judy and her sister, Paula Goldberg--now 60 and 63, respectively--told me the story of what had transpired half a century ago in that house, why it represented the best years of their lives and how it all came to an end. This is their story. The kochelein The kochelein--a term that literally means "cook alone"--represented a par- ticular kind of bungalow colony: a place where several families shared a house but where everyone was respon- sible for their own food. That's why there were half a dozen fridges and ovens in the kitchen: Each of the 10 families was allotted half a refrigerator and a shared oven to prepare meals. A pharmacist from the Bronx, Nat Goldberg began bringing his family to this kochelein, called Fairhill, in 1953, when Judy was still in diapers and her sister Paula was 5. The rest of the house was filled with cousins and close friends, all from the same working-class Bronx neighborhood. Everybody, of course, was Jewish. There was practically no privacy: Parents and their children slept in the same room, all the families shared only two bathrooms and ev- eryone ate their meals in the shared dining room. From a kid's perspective, the summers were idyllic. Days were spent hiking in the woods, swimming in the lake, picking wild blueberries, playing hide-and-seek, trying to sneak into the resort at Kutsher's and waging endless girls vs. boys wars. On rainy days they'd pack into the din- ing room with their parents to play mah-jongg or a variation of rummy, gambling for split peas. After the rain stopped, the kids would run outside to hunt salamanders. Once the Goldberg kids turned 10, they were allowed to hitchhike into Monticello; their mother would wave goodbye as they climbed into strangers' cars. On weekends they might catch rides with their father en route to the racetrack. On Saturday nights, when the adults went out, the kids left to their own devices smoked, played kissing games and did whatever else they could think of that their. parents had forbidden. "Every one of us will tell you it was the best time of our lives," Paula said of those summers. "Our mothers never knew where we were and didn't care." For the adults, the bun- galow colony was both an extension of and a break from their lives in the crowded Jew- ish enclaves of the Bronx. It was mostly the same people, but there was cleaner air, less privacy and less testosterone: The men, who worked Mon- day to Friday, came up only on weekends; the women and children stayed all summer. "Itwas a total matriarchy," Paula said. It was the 1950s, before three major factors destroyed the Jewish Catskills: air con- ditioning, which made stay- ing in the city more palatable; declining discrimination against Jews, which opened up previously unavailable summertime alternatives; and the rise of the working woman, which made mov- ing away for the summer untenable. The bungalow colony was not for the wealthy. Accom- modations were simple. Wa- ter came from a well. When it went dry one summer, the families went days with- out showering and walked around with divining rods. The swimming pool--now cracked, overgrown and shrouded by trees--wasn't built until sometime in the late '50s. With the exception of Nat Goldberg, none of the men at the kochelein had gone to college, and they all worked blue-collar jobs. Jewish fatal- Goldbergs on page 15A