Borscht Belt

Borscht Belt

Borscht Belt is an informal term for the summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in Sullivan and Ulster Counties in upstate New York which were a popular holiday spot for New York Jews. The term "Borscht Belt" can also refer to the Catskill region itself.


Borscht Belt hotels, bungalow colonies, summer camps, and "kuchaleyns" (a Yiddish name for self-catered boarding houses) were frequented by middle and upper class Jewish New Yorkers, particularly in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Because of this, this area was also nicknamed the Jewish Alps and Solomon County (a modification of Sullivan County), by many people who visited there. Well-known resorts of the area included Brickman's, Brown's, The Concord, Grossinger's, Granit, Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, the Nevele, Friar Tuck Inn, The Pines Resort, Raleigh and the Windsor.

The tradition of Borscht Belt entertainment started in the early 20th century with the indoor and outdoor theaters constructed on a 40 acre (16 hectare) tract in Hunter, New York, by Yiddish theater star Boris Thomashefsky.

Comedians who got their start or regularly performed in Borscht Belt resorts include: Joey Adams,
Woody Allen,
Morey Amsterdam,
Milton Berle,
Shelley Berman,
Al Bernie,
Mel Brooks,
Lenny Bruce,
George Burns,
Red Buttons,
Sid Caesar,
Jack Carter,
Myron Cohen,
Bill Dana,
Rodney Dangerfield,
Phyllis Diller,
Totie Fields,
Betty Garrett,
Estelle Getty,
George Gobel,
Shecky Greene,
Buddy Hackett,
Mickey Katz,
Danny Kaye,
Alan King,
Robert Klein,
Jack E. Leonard,
Pesach Burstein,
Mal Z. Lawrence,
Jerry Lewis,
Jackie Mason,
Lou Menchell,
Jan Murray,
Carl Reiner,
Don Rickles,
Joan Rivers,
Freddie Roman,
Allan Sherman,
Jackie Vernon,
Jackie Wakefield,
Jonathan Winters, and
Henny Youngman.

With changes in demographic and travel patterns, caused partially by the widespread adoption of air conditioning that made the cities less unpleasant in the summer, the area has declined as a major vacation destination. Perhaps the single biggest factor was the decline of discrimination or "restriction" in the hotel and travel industry by the 1960s as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination on the basis of race and religion flat out illegal in the tourism industry as well as in other arenas. Prior to that time, many upscale resorts and hotels, implicitly or otherwise, did not welcome Jews. Also, the end of rail service to the area added to the decline of the area. The replacement of old travel routes such as old New York State Route 17 (superseded by an express highway of the same name, now in the midst of an upgrade to Interstate 86), had left the area with a veritable museum of abandoned or decaying travel-related businesses from the Borscht Belt's heyday.The post World War II decline of the area also coincides with the increase of air travel. When families could go to more far off destinations such as the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Europe for the same amount that they could go to the Catskills, new venues began to win out.


Today the region is a summer home for many Orthodox Jewish families, primarily from the New York metropolitan area. It has many summer homes and bungalow colonies (including many of the historic colonies), as well as year-round dwellers. It even has its own year-round branch of the Orthodox Jewish volunteer emergency medical service Hatzolah. A few resorts remain in the region, though not many associated with the Borscht Belt Prime (Kutsher's Hotel, Villa Roma, Friar Tuck, to name a few).

Plans are now in place by those who purchased former Borscht Belt resorts, Concord Resort Hotel and Grossinger's for example, to work with Native Americans in an attempt to bring gambling to the region. Because the Borscht Belt prime has long passed and many of the resorts are abandoned, developers feel that this is a way to revitalize the region to the popularity it once had by attracting guests to world class casinos and resorts such as the ones in New Jersey and Connecticut.

Comedic legacy

"Borscht Belt humor" refers to the rapid-fire, often self-deprecating style common to many of these performers and writers. Typical themes include:

* Bad luck: "When I was a kid, I was breast-fed by my father." (Dangerfield)
* Puns: "Sire, the peasants are revolting!" "You said it. They stink on ice." (Harvey Korman as Count de Money (Monet) and Mel Brooks as King Louis XVI, in "History of the World Part I")
* Physical complaints and ailments (often relating to bowels and cramping): "My doctor said I was in terrible shape. I told him, 'I want a second opinion.' He said, 'All right, you're ugly too!'" "I told my doctor, 'This morning when I got up and saw myself in the mirror, I looked awful! What's wrong with me?' He replied, 'I don't know, but your eyesight is perfect!'" (Dangerfield)
* Aggravating relatives and nagging wives: "My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met." (Dangerfield). "Take my wife - please!" (Henny Youngman); "My wife drowned in the pool because she was wearing so much jewelry." (Rickles); "My wife ain't too bright. One day our car got stolen. I said to her, 'Did you get a look at the guy?' She said, 'No, but I got the license number.' " (Dangerfield)

Some but not all of the modern "Borscht Belt" comedians, such as Don Rickles, referred openly to Jews and anti-Semitism; others, such as Rodney Dangerfield, simply borrowed from the general style.

Popular culture

These resorts have been the setting for movies such as "Dirty Dancing," "Sweet Lorraine" and "A Walk on the Moon".

Characters inspired by Borscht Belt comics include Billy Crystal's "Mr. Saturday Night" and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.

While not a part of the true Borscht Belt legacy, the best known entertainment event to take place in the region was the 1969 Woodstock Festival, which took place on the land of Jewish farmer Max Yasgur in Bethel, New York.

In the film "Wet Hot American Summer", the character Alan Shemper, played by Michael Showalter, is a parody of Borscht Belt comedy.

In the film "Sleepers", a poster for Sonny Liston is seen on the wall of Robert De Niro's apartment and shows The Pines Resort as the location of the fight. The scene is when they are talking about the defense of the trial and De Niro's talk to Jason Patric and Minnie Driver

In the game Team Fortress 2 by Valve it is possible to obtain an achievement called Borscht Belt while playing Heavy class.

ee also

*History of the Catskill Mountains
*Chitlin' circuit

External links

* [ .designedbreakdown.] Short history and photo gallery exhibiting present-day decay at the Pines Hotel, a major hotel in the Borscht Belt.
* [ .designedbreakdown.] Photo gallery exhibiting present-day decay at the Heiden Hotel, a Jewish Hotel where the movie "Sweet Lorraine" was filmed.
* [ Online Guide to the Catskill Mountains]
* [ Borscht Belt] on the St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture.
* [ The Catskills Institute] , Brown University
* [ Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt] (documentary about the Borscht Belt)
* Documentary about a bungalow colony of Holocaust survivors in the Catskills.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Borscht Belt — (deutsch: Borschtsch Gürtel) ist ein umgangssprachlicher Begriff für die heute meist aufgelösten Feriensiedlungen von New Yorker Juden in den Catskill Mountains (Upstate New York) während der 1960er Jahre. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Geschichte 2 Trivia …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Borscht Belt — On appelle « Borscht Belt » (littéralement la « ceinture du bortsch ») une région touristique dans les montagnes Catskill dans les comtés de Sullivan et d Ulster de l État de New York, fréquenté dès les années 1920, mais… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • borscht belt — noun (informal) a resort area in the Catskill Mountains of New York that was patronized primarily by Jewish guests many comedians learned their trade playing the borscht circuit • Syn: ↑borscht circuit, ↑borsht circuit, ↑borsht belt • Usage… …   Useful english dictionary

  • borscht belt — also borsch belt noun Date: 1936 borscht circuit …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Borscht Belt — (also the Borscht circuit) (AmE humor) a holiday area in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. It was known especially in the 1950s and 1960s for attracting Jewish visitors and many American Jewish performers began their careers there.… …   Universalium

  • Borscht Belt — Catskill Mountain area, New York …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • (the) Borscht Belt — the Borscht Belt [the Borscht Belt] (also the Borscht circuit) (AmE humor) …   Useful english dictionary

  • borscht circuit — borscht′ cir cuit n. sbz (sometimes caps.) the hotels and cabarets of the Jewish resort area in the Catskills. Also called borscht′ belt • Etymology: 1935–40; in reference to borscht in E European Jewish cuisine …   From formal English to slang

  • Belt — (homonymie) Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Le mot anglais belt, généralement traduit par ceinture ou courroie, peut faire référence à plusieurs objets ou concepts. Géographie Bible Belt …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Belt (Homonymie) — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Le mot anglais belt, généralement traduit par ceinture ou courroie, peut faire référence à plusieurs objets ou concepts. Géographie Bible Belt Black Belt… …   Wikipédia en Français

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