It rained like mad on Sunday night. And as long as we are on the subject of being mad, following the intense rainstorm the sky was decorated with the most intense and colorful rainbows that seemed to cross over one another, unless that was an additional optical illusion.
As the rain came down at about 4 p.m. we were prowling the winding roads of Ulster County in search of the grounds of the old Pine View Hill bungalow colony. Our family attended that colony way back when, from when I was about six or seven years old until I was about ten. Of course, I was not driving cars at that age but rather was a passenger, so I did not have the familiarity with the road that I sometimes have in other parts of the mountains.
So I was kind of lost on Sunday as I drove along Ulster Heights Road near Ellenville. That was until I called my brother Binyomin, who had visited our old summer stomping grounds in previous years. He said to drive along the road I was on, and if I passed the Ulster Heights Church then I went too far.
I did recall that the road up to the colony was a steep incline that also included a sharp turn. As a young kid sitting in the back of my parents’ car, I never paid much attention to the roads we traveled in those days, but I knew that when we hit that incline and my dad made that sharp right, the trip was over and we were there. Summer could begin.
Waze said we were a bit more than a mile away from the church so I intensified my search because I knew that if I passed the church, I would have missed the turn. We slowed down somewhat because of the hard rain and that is when I spotted it.
I said to Esta, “This must be Pine View Hill.” We drove up a steep hill, which I felt in my stomach for just a moment, and I said, “This is the hill.” Esta looked over to our left and said, “Yup, and those are the pine trees.”
I never thought that it was this hill and those trees that inspired the bungalow colony’s name. You see, you learn something new every day about things, sometimes even more than a half-century later.
Let me digress for a moment and recall some of the families who stayed in Pine View Hill. There was the Twersky family, the Halberstams, the Rokeach family, also the Safrans and the Rubins, and on and on it went. It was a “who’s who” of frum Brooklyn life of the 1960s. So what were we doing there? I guess we can try to figure that out together.
Today, Pine View Hill, like the Homowack I mentioned last week, is still and desolate. I did not walk around the grounds as it was pouring outside, but I evaluated some of the still-standing buildings from my car. A follow-up visit will be imperative. Another reason we did not exit the car was because there were four or five cars in the parking lot and I was not sure if someone was on the grounds or if some other nearby colony was using the parking lot.
So I sat there in my car staring at the building that was part grocery store with another part of the building serving as the shul. Considering how young I was at the time, I have a better recollection of the grocery than I do the shul.
The shul served a dual purpose. It was also where the day camp gathered, especially on rainy days. Believe it or not, the shul, which was also referred to as the “casino,” had a black-and-white TV, though it never worked. Ellenville is a tough place to get cellphone or XM satellite reception, even in 2020. What were the chances that there would be any kind of reception many years before the idea for cable TV popped into someone’s head? There was none. No chance and no signal.
I’m going to go back in a few days, on a day without rain, hopefully, so I can explore the part of the planet where I learned to live life—my first bungalow.
If there were ever days of innocence it was those few years at Pine View Hill. One summer, our neighbor with whom we shared a porch was the Levertov family. The Levertovs were also our neighbors on Montgomery Street in Crown Heights. I know that I mentioned Menashe Levertov a few times in these columns over the years. But it wasn’t until many years later that I learned who he was and how that knowledge would retroactively shatter that once-idyllic way of summer life.
Rabbi Levertov had a beautiful, perfectly sculpted salt-and-pepper beard and very bushy eyebrows. He was a friendly and handsome, though quiet, man. What I didn’t know during those bungalow years was that he was a Schindler Jew, a man rescued from the crematoria in Poland by the legendary non-Jewish industrialist, Oskar Schindler.
Menashe Levertov was Schindler’s rabbi, so to speak. In the book Schindler’s List, Levertov is referred to as “rabbi.” He twice avoided being executed by Nazi officers.
Not many years later, Rabbi Levertov was killed by a speeding car as he was walking home from shul on a Friday night. It was a shattering loss.
More memories flash through my mind when I think about that bungalow colony. We had no pool, only a lake, which people went swimming in. I used to watch some of the men, including my father, play handball. Another favorite was volleyball. The thing that struck me as odd was seeing these men play ball in shorts and T-shirts and then seeing them on Shabbos with kapotes and, in some cases, shtreimels.
More than anything, it was a fun and innocent time, primarily, I believe, because everyone was relatively young. On my next trip over there, I hope to search out our family bungalow. It was deep into the colony and high up on a hill. From the look of the grocery store and the shul, I suspect that this place may have been empty of people for many decades.
Sure, I’m searching for buildings that I might be able to recognize and associate with some childhood events. More than that, however, I’ll be looking around for memories — and maybe those summer dreams that were left behind.