19 October 2007

Kutsher's century of lox and love

In 1825, according to a story in the New York Jewish Week, writer Washington Irving wrote:

"Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill Mountains. ... Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains."

And so begins a story about lots of lox and love about the last of the great Borscht Belt properties, Kutsher's in Monticello, New York.

Tracing the Tribe's regular readers will already know about my connection to Sullivan County - "the country" - and specifically to Kauneonga Lake. Although I spent many summers at my grandparents' bungalow colony, I had never stayed at any of the iconic hotels such as Grossinger's, the Concord or Kutsher's, which is celebrating the century mark this year and still going strong.

At the Catskills Institute conference in August 2006, I finally had an opportunity to make up for those summers. I finally understood what it must have been like in its heyday, as those sharing our table included a couple who had returned every summer since they met as teenagers.

In 1907, immigrants Louis and Max Kutsher opened a small place for the High Holidays. Max wasn't well and they hoped the clean air would make him healthy.

The "Jewish Alps" were an escape from the crowded hot streets of the city, and the first Kutsher's was a kochalein (Yiddish: cook alone), where guests shared a kitchen to cook their own meals.

The Kutsher Brothers Farm House grew to 1,400 acres of meadows, lake, forest; a main building with 400 rooms, two adjacent bungalow colonies, sports camp, golf course and beach.

Today, Mark (Louis's grandson) and Helen (Milton's widow) Kutsher run the resort and things haven't changed. There's an amazing array of kosher food, entertainment, land and water sports, activities for kids.

The place still draws hundreds of former guests for the high holidays. According to Helen Kutsher:

"It’s a combination of four L’s - a lot of lox [at breakfast], a lot of labor [constant attention to every aspect of the hotel business], a lot of luck and a lot of love. My mother used to say: ‘Reach for their hands. Look in their eyes. People need to know that you are paying attention to them.’"

For more information on the hotel, click here.

Helen and Mark Kutsher talk about the old days when some 1,000 hotels were operating - click here to listen.

Read the complete story here .

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