Catskills Krechmas – Zucker’s Hotel, Part 1
By Ben Zion Wolff
Jewish lore is filled with tales of wagon drivers traveling through darkened forests on cold, snowy nights in the dead of the Russian winter, searching for the dim light ahead which would lead them to a warm room, a warm drink and hopefully a warm bed. Often, the stories would entail the warmth of a tzaddik that would melt the frost obscuring the spark of life hidden in the Yiddishe neshamah. All this, and more, took place centuries ago in roadhouses in the woods along some forsaken paths.
The kretchma, the inn of yore, gave way to minerals bath spas where Yidden came to relieve their aching bones. As they transferred to America after World War II, hotels that lined the country roads in what was once known as the “Borsht Belt” were filled with families who spent a week or two taking in the country air and delicious food while they relaxed surrounded by friends, family and often Rabbanim and Gedolei Torah.
In this summer series, Inyan will travel back in time to a number of these hotels of yesteryear where Yidden stayed to rest and re-energize in a wholesome and enjoyable atmosphere. Memories of these respites remained with the guests throughout the year until it was time to travel up the old Route 17 to once again vacation their favorite Кретчма.
The Early Hotels of Shmuel Yitzchak Zucker and Family
As one drives along Glen Wild Road from Rock Hill towards Woodridge, the road dips into a valley at the halfway point and the driver can spot the abandoned Chevra Anshei Glen Wild shul on the right side with a dried-up lake bed immediately following it. On the left side of that road stood the Zucker’s Glen Wild Hotel for nearly 60 years, a vacation destination for thousands of Yidden, who came to enjoy the ambiance and the delicious food provided by Reb Shmuel Yitzchak (Sam) Zucker and his family.
“My father was an industrious fellow who became a hotelier more than a decade after arriving from Vienna in 1939,” said Reb Baruch (Ben) Zucker. “He was originally from Zlochiv (Zolochiv) and Alesk (Olesko) in Galicia. As a child, his family owned a ranch and a flour mill, and he came to Vienna in 1931 to meet my mother, Hinda née Frucht, although she was a yesomah and went by her mother’s name which was Roth. After they married, he settled in Vienna where he owned a general food store until the Anschluss of the Nazis in 1938. Soon after, the family was able to flee to New York.
“After arriving, my father became a custom peddler to support his family. He would go from house to house in Boro Park taking orders for various products, and then he would travel to Orchard Street to purchase them at a wholesale price and deliver them to his customers. In the early 1940s he became a shleifer — a diamond cutter — and eventually borrowed money to purchase a shop in the Diamond District, room 408 at 36 West 48th, where he worked and later rented out wheels to others who worked independently. He was the first shop to have a minyan for Minchah and Maariv.”
As an industrious man, Shmuel Yitzchak was always on the lookout for a good business idea, and when Shalom (Sol) Schwartz offered to help him rent a hotel for the summer of 1950, he jumped at the opportunity.
Karen Lodge was a small 18 room hotel located in Livingston Manor, and with Shalom Schwartz working as the broker, the Zucker family had their first foray into the hospitality industry. “That first summer proved quite successful, and the customers were very satisfied,” Baruch recalled. “Our guests seemed pleased, and the next summer we once again rented this hotel which was filled for the season. From day one, my family was gebentched with having chashuve guests, including Harav Yitzchok Dov Ber Ushpal, a Rav in Lubavitch; Harav Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin, a Rosh Yeshivah in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas; Harav Baruch Bendit Putterman, a Menahel in Lubavitch; and Reb Shiya Hecht, the patriarch of the renowned Hecht family, who came with their children, Rabbi Yankel (JJ), and Rabbi Avraham Dov (later Rav in Shaare Zion of the Syrian community in Flatbush).”
For the summer of 1952, Shmuel Zucker rented the Two Star Hotel, a larger hotel located on Fox Mountain in Parksville, N.Y. Once again, they experienced a successful season, graced with the presence of Harav Shmuel Dovid Warshavshik, zt”l, who served as a Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef (RJJ) on the Lower East Side, and had been a talmid of Harav Baruch Ber Lebowitz, zt”l, in Kaminetz. “There was a guest at the hotel who managed to get Rav Shmuel Dovid to learn with his son each day,” Reb Baruch related. “Harav Warshavshik was a giant of a talmid chacham, and it was a zechus to have him in our facility.”
Camp for Girls
Before the summer of 1953, Rabbi Yaakov (JJ) Hecht got backing to open a camp for girls in Sullivan County. He secured the Windsor Hotel near Katz’s Corner in Greenfield Park, and asked Shmuel Zucker to help him prepare it for the season. “The grounds were a churban and my father worked hard to get it in shape,” Reb Baruch said. “Rabbi Hecht managed to hire the most incredible staff for that summer, including many who went on to become famous for their accomplishments, including Esther Shapiro (daughter of Rabbi Yosef Shapiro of Pittsburgh and wife of Harav Mottel Weinberg, zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah of Montreal), Shoshanah Frei (wife of Dr. Yaakov Greenwald, z”l), Betty Koolyk (daughter of Rabbi Dovid Koolyk of Newark, N.J. and wife of Reb Shlomo Ribner) and Esther Puretz (wife of Harav Zevulun Leib), among others. The camp was not officially affiliated with Lubavitch at that time, but shortly after it became known as Camp Emunah.”
Zucker’s Glen Wild Hotel
The summer of 1954 was a watershed season for the Zucker family as Shmuel formed a partnership with another entrepreneur to purchase the New Glen Wild Hotel, which had originally been built by the Goldberg and Marcus families as the Grand Mountain Hotel. The next year, the Zuckers took full proprietorship of the facility.
The property consisted of two buildings: the older dining room building, which contained 48 rooms, and the newer main building, a grander edifice which housed rooms 49 through 100. “The dining room building was in poor shape, and even the four-story main building would today be considered economy accommodations. The lower floors had shared bathroom facilities, and the top floor had bathrooms in the hallway for the use of all the guests on the floor,” Reb Baruch recalled with his whimsical smile. “But the guests kept coming back year after year. The price was a modest $35 to $50 per week, and the hospitality and food was superb.”
Speaking of the hospitality, Reb Baruch recounted a story that occurred with his mother years ago. “Reb Avraham Speigel was eating in a restaurant in Crown Heights when he spotted a Holocaust survivor sitting at a nearby table. Unfortunately, this survivor was greatly affected during the war, and known as a pitiful character who would wander around the Jewish neighborhoods.
“Avraham wanted to help this fellow, and offered to pay for any food the man wanted to eat. Notwithstanding the generous offer, he asked for a measly meal of a baked appleand would accept nothing else.
“After completing his meal, Avraham headed upstate. It began to snow, and his car skidded and hit the median, totaling his automobile. The police, who expected a fatality, were shocked to find him alongside his car without any injury. When they asked him where he would like to be taken, he told them to take him to Zucker’s Glen Wild Hotel. My parents were on premises, having remained there from the Pesach through the summer. When he arrived, my mother, the consummate machnis orach, offered to get him some food. She searched the kitchen and brought out a baked apple! The story, which has become well-known, is an example of the pasuk in Mishlei (10:2) which states, “Utzedakah tatzil mimaves — and charity saves from death.”
During that first summer, Avraham Shachna Zucker, z”l, convinced several bachurim learning under Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, to spend their bein hazemanim in the hotel. “Some of these bachurim had previously gone to Camp Morris, the summer home of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, which was then located in Kiamesha Lake,” Reb Baruch said. “Avraham Shachna had made a name for himself in Bais Medrash Govoha, helping set up chaburos and ingratiating himself with the Rosh Yeshivah. At a recent 60th yahrtzeit gathering for my brother, arranged by the son of Raphael Zucker (Avraham Shachna’s son), I heard from Rabbi Shmuel Blech that my brother was speaking in learning with Rav Aharon when the Rosh Yeshiva, in his excitement, grabbed hold of my brother’s shirt and accidentally tore it. Rav Aharon was so apologetic that it ‘opened the door’ for my brother, and going forward he was able to interact with Rav Aharon whenever and however he wanted.”
Using his position in the yeshivah, Avraham Shachna diverted some of the top bachurim to spend their bein hazemanim at Zucker’s Hotel. The impressive list included Harav Meir Hershkowitz, later Rosh Yeshivah, Bais Binyomin in Stamford and Monsey; Harav Shmuel Faivelson, later Rosh Yeshivah, Bais Shraga and Beis Medrash L’Torah in Monsey, Harav Yankel Schiff, later the son-in-law of the Brisker Rav, zt”l; and Harav Chatzkel Lichtman, later Rosh Yeshiva in Bais Medrash L’Torah in Chicago.
“Harav Faivelson continued to come for several years even after he got married, and he was accompanied by his father-in-law, Reb Tzvi Shalom (Harry) Schiff, z”l, as well as his brother-in-law Harav Shiya Schiff , Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Shraga in Monsey,” Reb Baruch told with a twinge of pride.
Rebbes, Roshei Yeshivah and Rabbanim
The summers of 1955 through 1960 were booming years for Zucker’s, as it attracted some of the most renowned Roshei Yeshiva, Rebbes, Rabbanim and ehrlicher families to spend a week or two at the hotel.
“In the early years, the Skolya Rebbe, zy”a took a room, but he was hesitant to eat in the dining room, so we brought his food to Room 62 where he stayed,” said Reb Baruch. The Novominsker Rebbe, Harav Nachum Mordechai Perlow, zy”a, came often, accompanied by his children, including Harav Yaakov, zt”l.
One of the memorable visitors during those years was Harav Leib Malin, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Hatalmud, located at that time in East New York. Rav Leib was a leader amongst the prestigious talmidim of the Mir Yeshiva and had helped guide them throughout the War years they were stranded in Shanghai, China. Shortly after their arrival in New York, he established Yeshivas Beis Hatalmud, and was recognized as one of the leading Roshei Yeshivah in America.
“Harav Leib Malin was extremely makpid on the foods he consumed. He did not eat any canned vegetables, so my mother prepared special foods for him. She even baked him challos on her own, even though the hotel bought their challos from Bakemaster’s Bakery, the local establishment in nearby Woodridge. Despite not eating the food from the dining room, Rav Leib once entered the kitchen and began examining each and every product on the shelves,” Reb Baruch remembered. “After checking it all, he mentioned that the oil we bought was available with two different hashgachos, and he insisted we buy the one that had the hashgachah of the Tzeilemer Rav, zt”l, because he was aware that the Tzeilemer Rav had an extra chumrah in preparing the tankers they used for transportation.
“I asked Rav Leib why he went through the bother, since anyway he didn’t eat the food from the kitchen. His response was a lesson in how an adam gadol thinks. ‘Az ich zitz muz zein gut — if I am sitting here, all must be reliable.’ He meant to say that although he did not eat from the kitchen, people who saw him sitting in the hotel dining room would be under the impression that he did eat there, and they would rely on that to partake in the meals. ‘If Rav Leib eats from the hotel, it must be okay,’ they would say. So, he checked out all the labels of the ingredients in the kitchen to ensure that they were acceptable to him as well. In addition, one Motzei Shabbos, Rav Leib asked me to bring him to the Bakemaster’s Bakery in Woodbourne (another branch) despite the fact that he didn’t eat challah from the hotel or the bakery.”
Each Friday while he was there, Rav Leib would accompany Reb Baruch as he made his rounds checking the validity of the eiruv. “Rav Leib made several suggestions as to how to improve the kashrus of the eiruv, and of course we instituted them. Years later, Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinsten, zt”l, spent some summers at our hotel, and he, too, would accompany me as I checked the eiruv, ensuring that it should be as kosher as can be.”
In Part II, we will discuss the summers when Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Shneur Kotler and other Gedolei Torah spent their summer vacations at Zucker’s Glen Wild Hotel.
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