The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish VacationlandBy Marisa Scheinfeld, essays by Stefan Kanfer & Jenna Weissman Joselit (Cornell University Press,, 2016) Buy It Now
The Wild West has its ghost towns, and so do the wild western Catskills. For decades, the Borscht Belt’s resort hotels and bungalow colonies were a vacation paradise for urban Jewish families. Kiamesha Lake native Marisa Scheinfeld’s beautifully composed photographs are an elegy for that golden era. A striking cover photo—an orange-and-white lawn chaise on a floor furred with grass and ferns—sets the tone. Melancholy and at times surreal, these decayed, grown-over landscapes and interiors cast a spell. Several striking spreads contrast publicity photos from the hotels’ heyday with the same architectural features as they appear today, with snow-filled swimming pools and rusted railings. Objects bear silent testimony: poker chips dusted with plaster, a cockeyed music stand, a lone blue bowling ball, empty chairs that conjure past occupants. This is a book of ghosts, haunting and eloquent.