By Larry Gordon

My parents liked the idea of going to one of the kosher hotels in the Catskills, particularly for Shavuos. We did that for a few years when I was in my late teens. After that, as far as what to do on yom tov, I was on my own or there was always the choice to spend the chag at home.

It was during those years that I acquired a liking for yom tov in one of the many hotels that were spread around the Catskills. For the most part, it was an enjoyable, meaningful, and socially productive environment at the time.

In fact, I have always felt that when the Pioneer Country Club burned to the ground in about 1974 that was when the tone was set for what would ultimately become the “shidduch crisis.”

When some of my friends decided they wanted to go to work as waiters in the Pioneer for Pesach I thought that would be something interesting to do (and a lot of fun), as well as an opportunity to make some money. I remember telling my dad that I wanted to go to the hotel for Pesach to work there. When I said that, he was a little stunned and looked at me as if he thought I was going nuts.

I recall two other times that he looked at me like that. One was when I was about 16 and announced that I wanted to buy a pair of brown shoes to wear on Shabbos, and then again a couple of years later when I casually floated the idea of possibly going with some friends to a coed camp for the summer.

Let me try to describe how “the look” came across. He was standing maybe two feet or so away from me when I said those things, and he didn’t react. In other words, he didn’t say “yes” and he didn’t say “no.” He just stared at me with no emotion evident on his face. It was like he was absorbing what I said but was trying to figure out how he should react.

Even though at the time he didn’t say anything definitive, I must’ve received the message clearly. I never worked in a hotel on Pesach and I did not go to a coed camp, nor did I ever buy or wear brown shoes on Shabbos. I would have liked to do some or all of the above, but I knew how important it was to my dad that I not do so.

Over the recent chag, part of the family spent yom tov at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton near Monsey. It was one of several such programs, along with Gateways and Yeshiva University at other hotels here on the East Coast.

It is always beautiful to be home for yom tov with family and friends around the table. But there is also something special about half the family not spending time in the kitchen preparing and then even more time putting the place back in order.

It is really nice when after yom tov davening in the morning you head to the dining area or, if the weather is cooperative, outdoors to make Kiddush and taste some of the foods that we traditionally identify with yom tov. That is usually followed by a lecture from one of the rabbanim present and that is followed by lunch.

Over the just-elapsed chag it was just nice to walk to our already set table in the dining room and partake in a sumptuous seudah and then at the conclusion leave it to the dining room staff to take care of. It was even a pleasurable thing to do 45 years ago.

My father was disposed toward going away for Shavuos because he knew many of the people who did the same and he also wanted to give my mom a break from all the preparations in which she played such an essential role.

He used to point out the dichotomy between Sukkos, Pesach, and Shavuos. He was wont to say that on Sukkos you can consume whatever you’d like but not where you might prefer to be. On Pesach, he said, you can eat wherever you want but not all the foods that you might want to eat. But on Shavuos, he added, you can eat whatever you want, wherever you want.

My father was a popular Yiddish journalist at a time when communications was not what it is today. He wrote weekly columns on the Jewish community issues of the day and he enjoyed interfacing with his readers, some of whom would frequent these venues. He particularly enjoyed interfacing with community leaders and some of the leading American Jewish rabbis who frequented these places specifically over Shavuos.

And then there was and still is the matter of singles and the shidduch crisis or challenge that exists out there today. All the hotel programs these days advertise that they will have noted and accomplished shadchanim present at their yom tov programs.

Up in the Catskills over yom tov, our shidduch columnist, Baila Sebrow, ran a Shavuos program for 200 singles of all ages. Once upon a time—that is, a few decades ago—a yom tov like this, first at the Pioneer and the Pine View Hotel, and later, after those two hotels closed, at the Homowack, was a singles extravaganza. Rooms sold out quickly and there was usually a waiting list to get a room for the chag.

The beauty of that dynamic was that the young men and women were on their own and had to fend for themselves socially. Many relationships had their genesis in these venues, and that often resulted in a shidduch being made.

Today, that kind of an environment or process is met with disapproval in many circles. But it is difficult to argue that the old way was wrong and today there is a better system. The system we have in place and to which many of our families subscribe leaves too many of our young people on the sidelines without dating opportunities as the clock ticks and the years move on.

My daughter Malkie has been writing on the subject over the last few weeks and has been advocating that young singles take to social media and in a responsible fashion present themselves and work on their own behalf to find a proper shidduch and move on with their lives.

Back about 40 years ago, a few of my friends wanted to spend July 4th in the Catskills at the famed Grossinger’s resort in Liberty, New York. We were in our early twenties, single and available. The Fourth of July drew a big crowd in those days. There were probably 500 single men and women there.

After shul on Friday night everyone proceeded to the dining room, and friends who came for Shabbos together usually sat together for the meals. Somehow we ended up with 12 men sitting around the table that Friday night.

After we made Kiddush, I commented to the friend I was with that this was ridiculous and that I did not come for the weekend to sit with 12 guys in suits and ties.

Off to my right I spotted two empty seats at a table. I nudged my friend and said that we should escape our table and go sit at the one I was pointing to. There were eight young men and four young women at the table. I figured that was better than sitting with all those guys.

We moved over there and made it seem like we had been there all along. Over the course of the meal, I struck up a conversation with one of the young women. She said her name was Esta, and she spelled it differently than other women with the same name. Then she told me that it was the first time she had ever been at a hotel like this with so many singles. Up to that point in her dating life she had only been set up by someone or had gone out on shidduch dates.

I told her that I attended these kinds of things as often as I could. I might have added that in my mind this was the only way to go. We spoke at the subsequent meals over the weekend, and then at breakfast on Sunday morning, before we left to go our own ways, I told her that I was going to need her phone number so that I could call her and we could continue our conversations.

She was a little flustered. She tried to ignore my request and kept changing the subject, but after I asked her for the number four or five times she finally relented and I wrote it down.

This is what Malkie may have been referencing in her articles on shidduchim over the last few weeks. This was way before there was social media, so I could not rely on Saw You at Sinai. It had to be just plain “saw you.”

We dated for a little while, got engaged in November, and got married the following March. One personal shidduch crisis averted.

Correction: Last week in our column about the 100th anniversary of the Loch Sheldrake shul, we mentioned a number of shuls in the various towns that make up the Catskills but failed to mention the more-than-100-year-old iconic shul in Woodridge. The shul—Congregation Ohave Sholom—served summer residents as well as a large year-round population that continues to grow.

The omission was an oversight and we apologize for the error. The history of the Woodridge shul deserves a story of its own and we hope to address that this summer.

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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