Summer Haven: The Catskills, the Holocaust, and the Literary Imagination

Summer Haven: The Catskills, the Holocaust, and the Literary Imagination

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Edited by Holli Levitsky & Phil Brown

Series: Jews of Russia & Eastern Europe and Their Legacy
ISBN: 9781618114181 (hardcover) / 9781618115164 (paper)
Pages: 416 pp.; 25 illus.
Publication Date: September 2015

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This volume provides for the first time a collection of writing that investigates the stories and struggles of survivors in the context of the Jewish resort culture of the Catskills, through new and existing works of fiction and memoir by writers who spent their youths there. It explores how vacationers, resort owners, and workers dealt with a horrific contradiction—the pleasure of their summer haven against the mass extermination of Jews throughout Europe. It also examines the character of Holocaust survivors in the Catskills: in what ways did people find connection, resolution to conflict, and avenues to come together despite the experiences that set them apart? The book will be useful to those studying Jewish, American, or New York history, the Holocaust and Catskills legacy, United States immigration, American literature, and American culture. The focus on themes of nostalgia, humor, loss, and sexuality will draw general readers as well.

Contributors: Michael Berenbaum, Joseph Berger, Gloria Boris, Martin Boris, Rita Calderon, Ezra Cappell, Sandor Goodhart, Jake Ehrenreich, Bonnie Shusterman Eizikovitz, Hilene Flanzbaum, Andrew Jacobs, Harvey Jacobs, Michael Kirschenbaum, Eileen Pollack, Naima Prevots, Thane Rosenbaum, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Art Spiegelman, Reuben Wallenrod

Holli Levitsky is the founder and Director of the Jewish Studies Program and Professor of English at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Her research and scholarship focus on Holocaust representation and questions of (Jewish) identity, especially as it relates to exile and displacement. She is the co-editor of, The Literature of Exile and Displacement: American Identity in a Time of Crisis (2013), and Summer Haven: The Catskills, the Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, an edited collection of literature and scholarship with sociologist and Catskills expert Phil Brown (September 2014). In 2001-2002, Dr. Levitsky held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Literature in Poland. She has participated in symposia, conferences, and study trips to Germany and to Poland to advance German-Jewish and Polish-Jewish understanding. She regularly leads workshops for secondary and college teachers in California and in Warsaw on teaching the Holocaust.

Phil Brown is University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. He is Founder and President of the Catskills Institute, which maintains the largest archive in the world of material relating to the Jewish experience in the Catskills. He is author of Catskill Culture: A Mountain Rat's Memories of the Great Jewish Resort Area (1998) and editor of In the Catskills: A Century Of The Jewish Experience In “The Mountains” (2002). His work in environmental health includes No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action (with Edwin Mikkelsen, 1990; revised edition 1997), Illness and the Environment: A Reader in Contested Medicine (with J. Stephen Kroll-Smith and Valerie Gunter, 200), Social Movements in Health (with Stephen Zavestoski 2005), Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement (2007), and Contested Illnesses: Citizens, Science and Health Social Movements (with Rachel Morello-Frosch and Stephen Zavestoski, 2012).


Summer Haven brings to life the vibrant culture of the Jewish Catskills against the backdrop of the Nazi devastation of Jewish life in Europe. I know of no other book that recreates with such richness the history and character of the Catskills and the defining culture of Yiddishkeit. Peopled by refugees and survivors, the Catskills provided a haven in response to loss and displacement, a New Jerusalem, as expressed in the literary imagination, memoirs, and scholarly responses so lovingly collected in this valuable book. Summer Haven brilliantly captures a crucial part of the legacy of Jewish life in America.
— Victoria Aarons, O.R. & Eva Mitchell Distinguished Professor of Literature, Trinity University
Summer Haven is a must read for all those interested in Jewish culture in an American context set against the background of the Holocaust. Under the astute editorship of Holli Levitsky and Phil Brown, this volume hones in on the Catskills examining from a variety of literary perspectives how the Holocaust was experienced in this very American setting. Among the book’s many achievements is its demonstration that while Jews vacationed in the Catskills, their thoughts—and nightmares—were of their persecuted European coreligionists.
— Alan L. Berger, Raddock Family Eminent Scholar Chair in Holocaust Studies, Florida Atlantic University
Evoking times of great pleasure interwoven with fear and mourning, this rich collection of fiction, essays, memoirs, and inter-generational reflections shows that the Catskills, a holiday refuge, was still intimately connected to the Holocaust. Summer Haven sets the sharply rendered details of local history in a vital international context.
— Eric J. Sundquist, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University, author of Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America
As its sub-title proclaims, Summer Haven focuses on the Catskills, the Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, how Jews came to America after experiencing the agony and horror of the Holocaust and experienced the unique and almost make-believe-funny and peaceful world of the Catskills. We are there through many pages of fiction, memoirs, essays, personal and general, reflections, and musings. The result is an evocation of a time and place, a way of life that belonged to history and now belongs to all of us fortunate enough to have this special book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
— Dr. Harvey Frommer, Dartmouth College, coauthor of It Happened in the Catskills
[A] collection of provocative and highly illuminating essays. . . . Here we find a tight focus on the strange and powerful point of connection between the Borscht Belt, a place of escape and frolic, and the Holocaust, an event of dire gravity. . . . a unique exercise in extracting new meanings from the unlikeliest of sources.
— Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal