Ear­li­er this week, Marisa Sche­in­feld reflect­ed on how the themes of the Jew­ish High Hol­i­days relate to her book, The Borscht Belt: Revis­it­ing the Remains of America’s Jew­ish Vaca­tion­land, a col­lec­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy cap­tur­ing the remains of one­time Jew­ish resorts in upstate New York. Marisa is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

From the begin­ning of this project, my inten­tion for this pho­to­graph­ic series was to be pub­lished as a book con­tain­ing three essays and over 100 images. I am so hap­py that five years lat­er, this goal has come to fruition.

The Borscht Belt: Revis­it­ing the Remains of America’s Jew­ish Vaca­tion­land begins with post­cards of the Borscht Belt era in its prime and then delves into the pho­to­graph­ic series at large. The first pages of it reveal an exter­nal view of an over­grown entrance to Grossinger’s and then by the third or fourth pho­to­graph the view­er is led inside. Then, like a jour­ney, one is led into a lob­by, through a show­room and out­side to an Olympic sized swim­ming pool, revis­it­ing the ves­tiges of a par­adise that is now long gone. Oth­er pho­tographs con­vey the cycle of life or cur­rent activ­i­ty occur­ring in the spaces such as a bird liv­ing in a gue­stroom, stacked pots and pans in a kitchen, a flight of steps sup­port­ing a com­bi­na­tion of Astro­Turf and moss, or a rotary phone lying a bed, off the hook. Each sce­nario is exact­ly how I found it, arranged not by myself but by time and chance.

Upon mak­ing var­i­ous trips to my pho­to­graph the region notably known as the Borscht Belt in each sea­son, I end­ed up with hun­dreds if not thou­sands of pho­tographs. In the end, I had to make some cru­cial edits. Edits, with regard to pho­tographs, shape an over­all nar­ra­tive and lead a viewer’s eyes through a curat­ed selec­tion of imagery. The book and series was edit­ed over a peri­od of about three months and is intend­ed to flow like a voy­age of sorts, tra­vers­ing the aban­doned hotels and bun­ga­low colonies of the area just as I did, reveal­ing relics and rem­nants both close-up and from a distance. 

The book is com­prised of exact­ly 129 pho­tographs of 40 resorts, hotels and bun­ga­low colonies. There are many pho­tographs that I had to let go of on the cut­ting room floor. Some­times, it was very dif­fi­cult. It wasn’t that the pho­to­graph was bad per se, it was just to avoid redun­dan­cy, or for space con­straints. Much of the ephemera did not make it into the book, either — I amassed a large col­lec­tion of orig­i­nal ephemera from the era in the form of post­cards, brochures, match­books, and 2‑D and 3‑D objects that are arranged on var­i­ous pages of text in the book. I weed­ed out mul­ti­ple post­cards of pools and mer­ci­less cut out pho­tographs of my fam­i­ly mem­bers at a spe­cif­ic hotel. 

The Borscht Belt was a tremen­dous­ly impact­ful era. We know from hear­ing about it or its mark­er in the can­nons of Jew­ish Amer­i­can his­to­ry that it pro­vid­ed enter­tain­ment, leisure and fun to so many peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly Jews; it also, was places where social bonds were formed, many that con­tin­ue to this day. I hope this era is nev­er for­got­ten. Sen­ti­men­tal as it might seem, I oper­ate from the most per­son­al of places because the Borscht Belt is the place where I grew up and the loca­tion I will always call my home. I am hope­ful for the region to wit­ness anoth­er tran­si­tion, one that will fuel its econ­o­my and bring an influx of foot traf­fic back into the region. I look for­ward to see what time deliv­ers. While the images con­tain pathos for what once was, with­in the pho­tographs I see much room for con­tem­pla­tion about the present and the future. To that end, I present to you a selec­tion of images that did not make the final cut. I am glad that at least here they’ll find a place to reside…

Click on any image below to browse the full gallery of out­takes from the book:

Marisa Sche­in­felds pho­tog­ra­phy has been exhib­it­ed nation­al­ly and inter­na­tion­al­ly and is among the col­lec­tions of The Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry, The Nation­al Yid­dish Book Cen­ter, The Simon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter, The Magnes Col­lec­tion of Jew­ish Art and Life and The Edmund and Nan­cy K. Dubois Library at the Muse­um of Pho­to­graph­ic Arts 

Relat­ed Content:

Marisa Sche­in­feld was born in Brook­lyn, NY in 1980, and raised in the Catskills. She received a BA from the SUNY Albany in 2002 and an MFA from San Diego State Uni­ver­si­ty in 2011. Marisa’s work has been exhib­it­ed nation­al­ly and inter­na­tion­al­ly and is among the col­lec­tions of The Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry, The Nation­al Yid­dish Book Cen­ter, The Simon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter, and The Dubois Library at the Muse­um of Pho­to­graph­ic Arts. The Borscht Belt: Revis­it­ing the Remains of Amer­i­ca’s Jew­ish Vaca­tion­land is her first publication.