There is a significant body of literature dealing with the Catskills, and there is an enormous body of literature dealing with the Holocaust. This anthology of fiction and nonfiction deals with the relatively small number of works in which these pivotal Jewish topics intersect.
The editors of this collection cast a wide net. In some cases, most notably with Reuben Wallenrod’s Dusk in the Catskills, the pieces deal with the war era itself or its immediate aftermath. In many other cases, the stories and memoirs discuss the lives of Holocaust survivors in the golden age of the Catskills or even decades after World War II. A number of the chapters are followed by essays either analyzing them or — in the case of those written by the original author — explaining them. The editors are enamored by the Catskills, and this work also serves as an informal (albeit limited) history of the region as a key element of American Jewish life.
The editors clearly hope to gain insight from the juxtaposition of the hellish world of the Nazi concentration camps with the safe and serene environment of the Catskills. Included in the collection are explorations of how an individual can bounce back from time spent in the darkest places on earth to live a life of meaning and joy (a basic theme of the work of Elie Wiesel, who is not represented here). Wonderful insights into this topic are offered by pieces such as Bonnie Shusterman Eizikovitz’s Catskill Dreams and Pumpernickel. In this story, a girl contemplates why her older friend, a Holocaust survivor, is so emotional about some gossip; much later, she realizes that the survivor couldn’t bear to learn of a Jewish woman having an abortion.
As with most anthologies, this collection is uneven. It is unclear why the editors felt the need to have so many authors of the nonfiction pieces explain why they wrote them; in a few cases, this simply seems redundant. Still, there isn’t a clinker in the bunch. And some of the writers, particularly Thane Rosenbaum and Ezra Cappell, do an excellent job of elaborating on their original pieces. Cappell’s reading of his foreboding Dreaming in the Ninth is particularly potent.
Best of all are the excerpts from two famous works, Art Spiegelman’s second Maus book and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies: A Love Story. Those powerful excerpts tower over their brethren in the anthology and will quite possibly send some readers off to find those two books. If that is the case, Summer Haven will have accomplished even more than it hoped for.
- Internal Dialogue: You Don’t Know from Jewish Summer Camp If You Haven’t Seen These Movies
- The Catskills: Its History and How It Changed America by Stephen M. Silverman and Raphael D. Silver
- Reading List of Stories Along the Hudson