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August 29, 2014

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST29, 2014 Goldbergs From page 12A lies with more money went to resorts like Kutsher's, where meals, entertainment and a wide range of recreational fa- cilities were included. At Kut- sher's, residents of bungalow colonies like the Fairhill kochelein were referred to derisively as "bungees." Entertainment at the ko- chelein was mostly home- made: Someone would play the piano or the adults would hold silly parties where ev- eryone wore their clothes backward or husbands and wives swapped clothing or held mockweddings or soup- eating contests. The men were constantly pranking each other. In the mornings, the first thing everyone would do was get in line for the bathroom, toothbrush and soap in hand. With as many as 40 people sharing just two bathrooms, dillydallying was severely frowned upon--not least by your stern, socially conscious mother. "Everything happened in front of everybody else--all the babying, all the disciplin- ing," Judy recalled. "There was no private place to yell at anybody." One morning when she was 11, Judy had to conceal a hickey she said a boy had forced on her neck the night before. "It was the summer, you couldn't wear a scarf," she said. "So I put on makeup before I came out from the top of my head down to my neck thinking nobody would notice." To no avail. As soon as she walked into the dining room, a girl named Arlene spotted it and broke into peals of laughter. Judy was humili- ated; her mother made her wear pancake makeup until the hickey subsided. The food was kosher--to some degree. At home in the Bronx, Sylvia would let her kids have milk after meat, but at the bungalow colony she was stricter because Aunt Faye was sitting at the next table. "We used to pretend to be kosher," Judy said. "It was shameful if you weren't kosher. But people were dif- ferent degrees of kosher." Because the ladies didn't drive, the mothers would list the groceries they needed in a spiral notebook hanging from a hook in the dining room, and the Polish Catho- lic family that owned the property--Alex and Mary Chicko--would go to town every day to buy the provi- sions, adding a penny or two to each item as a delivery fee. The families all shared a single public telephone. If Milton should phone from the city to speak to his wife who was down by the lake, who- ever answered would get on the P.A. system and make the announcement, summoning Norma to the receiver. If the kids misbehaved, the parents would punish them by dragging them along to Kutsher's shows instead of leaving them behind with their boyfriends and girl- friends. For Paula, one kochelein relationship proved to have special staying power: with Mark Goldberg, a boy whose family had been coming to the Fairhill kochelein since the 1920s. She was 5 and he was 6 when they met, and they began "going together" in the summer of 1959. That was when 13-year- old Mark asked Paula to a movie theater in town to see "Journey to the Center of the Earth," and the two kissed during the film--with their eyes open, Paula says. He was fresh; he was a bad boy," Paula said with a mischievous smile. The two broke up at the end of every summer and then got back together the following July. Some sum- mers Mark's family didn't go up to the mountains, but Mark always came--even if it was in the care of someone else's parents. That is, until the summer of '66, when Mark's father collapsed at the kochelein of a heart attack and died. Mark was 19. When Mark was 22 and Paula was 21, they married. The couple recently cel- ebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. The later years By the 1960s, things had begun changing at the ko- chelein. A pool had been built. Two more bathrooms were added to the main house. There had been three or four bungalows onsite at least since the early '50s, but in the '60s the owners decided to build several more, enlisting the summertime kids to help. Most significantly, the owners cut a deal that traded the use of part of their land to Kutsher's in exchange for nightly passes to the resort's shows. Kutsher's eventu- ally bought the bungalow colony outright. "That changed our lives," Paula recalled. "Our parents could get dressed up and go every night and see all the Borscht Belt comedians. They could go dancing on the stage. Our little bungalow colony had very special power based on the land." Judy says she enjoyed the shows, except for one thing: "The comedians would tell their joke, and then the punchline would be in Yid- dish. I'd ask Morn what he said and she'd say, 'I'll tell you later.' " When she was old enough, Judy began working sum- mers at Kutsher's as a camp counselor. It was hard work, she says: 12-hour days, six days a week, for just $15 per week. At the kochelein, the traditions continued. At summer's end, when each family finished pack- ing up the car to leave, the remaining families would assemble for a parting cer- emony. They'd all bang pots and pans and sing a song to the tune of the "The Farmer in the Dell": We hate to see you go. We hate to see you go. We hope to heck you never come back. We hate to see you go. The Goldbergs were usu- ally the last to leave. "We left a day later than everyone else because God forbid we should get stuck in traffic," Paula recalled. As they graduated high school and college, the num- ber of kids at the bungalow colony dwindled. Some went up only for weekends, some not at all. Even as the Catskills fell into decline in the '70s and '80s, the adults kept going to the Fairhill kochelein-- relishing the space without kids, according to Paula. They stopped only when they couldn't physically do it, ob- structed by illness, death or retirement to Florida. By the 1990s, most of the kochelein's rooms were empty. But not the Goldbergs'; they were diehards. Even when Nat and Sylvia took a place in Florida for the winter, they would return to Monti- cello for the summers. Sylvia kept three separate bottles of moisturizer so she could travel lighter: at her bedside at the kochelein, in Florida and in Yonkers, where the couple moved when they left the Bronx. (Snooping around the abandoned property, I spotted Sylvia's bottle of moisturizer.) With the surrounding area growing shab.bier every year, the Goldberg kids tried to convince their parents to stop going to the kochelein--or at least get a room for the summer at Kutsher's, which by now they could afford. But Nat and Sylvia wouldn't budge. "To me it was depressing to go up in those later years," Judy said. "My mother's sister used to bring up all her money for the summer and hide it in her room. When she had a stroke in the middle of one summer, her son asked us to find the money and we couldn't. Eventually some- one found it." The last few summers the Goldbergs spent at the bun- galow colony, they were the only couple there. "It was eerie," Judy said. "You would go upstairs and all the other rooms were aban- doned looking." Nat and Syl- via would spend their days at Kutsher's--Sylvia in pottery classes making tchotchkes that she'd take back to the kochelein and hang on the walls, Nat outside organizing shuffleboard games. At the end of the day they would go back to their big, empty house at the bungalow colony to eat and sleep. Though there were half a dozen refTigeYatoYs, they still confined themselves to the same half-fridge they always used. "It felt like the 'Twilight Zone' to me," Paula said. "Dad was 92. We were scared already. They were living alone in that big house and crossing over to the dining room for meals. They were anachronisms." Finally, in the summer of 2002, after 50 years of summers at Fairhill, the Goldberg kids managed to convince their parents to forego the kochelein for the following summer, and they booked rooms at Kutsher's for 10 weeks starting in June 2003. But when Nat and Sylvia left the kochelein at the end of August 2002, Sylvia was complaining about feeling tired, and she spent that fall in and out of doctor's offices. She was diagnosed with cancer. "After we booked them into 10 weeks at Kutsher's, my mother felt like a very rich lady," Paula said. "Even when she was in hospice, she thought she'd spend the summer at the hotel." Sylvia never made it. She died in July 2003. Nat, 10 years her senior, held on for nearly another decade, living until the age of 100. He died in June 2010. Today, the Jewish Catskills is largely a relic. There are still a few bungalow colonies scat- tered about, and some haredi Orthodox camps have put down stakes, but all the great Jewish hotels have been sold off or abandoned to nature and decay. Kutsher's, the last hold- out, was sold in late 2013 for $8.2 million to Veria Lifestyle Inc., a company owned by Indian billionaire Subhash Chandra. He plans to build a new health and wellness resort at the site. Decades on, the kochelein still maintains a hold on the Goldberg sisters--and many of the others who spent their childhood summers there. In 1996, when the sisters held a 50th anniversary party for their parents at Paula's Westchester home, many of the old kochelein kids showed up for the occasion. PAGE 15A "They were like family,'! Paula says. At Paula's insistence, she and Mark used to drive to Monticello every year on Aug. 2, the anniversary of their first date. Then last year, for the first time, Paula decided she didn't want to go anymore. It was just too sad and spooky. From what I saw on my foray there, it's also danger- ous. There's no telling when a floor might collapse or the roof cave in. The property is a wreck. But it's also full of arti- facts --enough for an en- terprising visitor to decode the mystery of the copious fridges, the half-full bottle of moisturizer, the piano in the corner of the dining room. Enough, that is, to tell the Goldbergs' story. Uriel Heilman/JTA This Catskills housenear Kutsher's, in the old Borscht Belt, once was home to a vibrant communal summer hone called a kochelein- Yiddish for cook alone," because while living and cooking space were shared, each family was responsible for its own meals. Uriel Heilman/JTA Inside, nature is gradually reclaiming the kochelein, called the Fairhill bungalow colony. Its last residents left in 2002. Uriel Heilman/JTA This photograph dated August 2001, which JTA's Uriel Heilman found affixed to a mirror in one of the bedrooms of the derelict bungalow colony, shows Nat and Sylvia Goldberg, at left, at the bungalow colony with three other couples identi- fied only as Herman & Eleanor, Milton & Norma and Jack & Charlotte. i