It’s been decades since the Satmar Rebbe’s characterization of the Jewish migration to the Borscht Belt as a galus, which might have called for a yom tefillah if it were forced upon us, has no longer been applicable.
Bungalows are now summer homes, complete with 24-hour hot water, central AC and heating, and underground foundations. No more undercarriage crawlways where raccoons and sweaty kids compete for space and salamanders. No more waiting on line for the 5-minute phonecall to parents as snide comments come from number 11, 12, and 13 on line. No more getting the 3:18 slot on the washer/dryer line the day after Tishah B’Av.
Yidden have comfortably replaced Lakewood, Monsey and Brooklyn with Woodridge, Monticello and Fallsburg during the summer months. The Nine Days conjure images of siyumim, campfires and indoor hockey — and nostalgia for the rest of us who stay in the city.
Though Great American, Jamesway and ShopRite have given way to the all- mighty, all-saving, all-carrying Walmart, an array of headgear from shtreimels to sheitlach and kippahs still wanders the aisles of the world’s greatest club.
Everyone knows that Fallsburg policeman who loves ticketing, and the second turn after the third light where a cop car is parked in ambush. Monticello has become so Jewish that they have a budget surplus just from the double-parking tickets in the months of July and August. Shouldn’t they have a say in this debate as well? At least we should argue it out at a county budgetary hearing.
Catskills living is a boon to be encouraged, not a money drain and minhag-in- the-making on a par with Sukkos in Israel and Pesach in a hotel, to be thrashed out on readers’ forums and op-ed pages.
Mike Tress, z”l, the legendary Agudah leader, started Camp Agudah solely based on his experience growing up on the grates and pavement of Williamsburg’s treeless avenues and storefronts, decorated by the finest of New York City’s graffiti artists. Wondering how much more a chicken divided into 16 parts can be diced, and trying to figure out which was thinner — the watermelon slice or the paper plate on which it was served — were two of the fondest memories campers of the 1950s have.
The rejuvenation gained by those few weeks of baseball, swimming, cantata and endless cans of Mountain Dew for the talmidim is invaluable for rebbeim, they attest. The Torah studied in the vast amount of free time available in camp is way more enjoyable than that of staid yeshivah learning.
Many thousands of children would vote to extend the eight weeks of summer fun by another four weeks. Many weary parents would allow them a double ballot.
What about the bungalow colonies? Rabbanim have expressed their anxiety at the prevalent custom of Tatty being a Shabbos guest in the country. But the twin forces of parnassah and the ubiquitous beach chair kumzitz for the women combine to make it a societal necessity.
Going up to “the country,” as generations of children have called it with a gleam in their eyes, has also proved a financial savior for many families. Rather than send three of their children to day camps in the city and another two to sleepaway camp in the mountains, bungalow colonies are cheaper, allow for close supervision of the children, and, if you discount the air conditioner tax, are cheaper food-wise and otherwise than city life.
There are also many jobs that allow for free bungalows. A few years ago, a group of people in my shul wanted to get together and start a bungalow colony. It didn’t work out because everyone wanted to be the rebbi or day camp head who gets the free bungalow.
Yeshivos who extend their year into July do not affect the summer industry at all. In fact, thousands of people today are expanding their Catskills escape into Sukkos, Chanukah and beyond. Why take that away?
While those yeshivos may be doing a service to the families of their communities, it is not in the best interest of the wider public. Everyone needs a break from the brick and mortar of the city, and the reason the word “summer” invokes better days has to do not only with the weather.
So I believe passionately that the current eight weeks of summer getaway are necessary and should be extended.
Hey, is that my son reading over my shoulder…