Grossinger's, the Jewish American Experience

    January 2012          
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Grossinger's "Singles Week"... And All I Got Were These Lousy T-Shirts!

By Walter D. Levy

"Gotteniu Velvle!" my Uncle Max exclaimed. "Where did you get all those T-shirts?" he continued. I remember replying, "It's a long story, Uncle Max, a long story."

The year was 1968. In Europe, the "Prague Spring" had begun. In America, Richard Nixon would soon be elected president. In Asia, there was a war raging in Vietnam. In late July, militants would hijack an El Al jet that was en route from Rome to Tel Aviv.

That June, I had just completed my second year of teaching history in the Manhasset, NY Public Schools. I had, over that summer, returned to my Boston neighborhood. Yet, before I was to begin my new teaching assignment, I was looking for a little rest and relaxation.

Well, for one week that August, I would get very little rest...but a whole lot of recreation.

Just after school had let out for the summer, I recall that I was reading the New York Times when I noticed in their travel section an ad for a "Singles Week" at a Catskills resort called Grossinger's (When I was young, I remember hearing my parents talk about "The Borscht Belt" and a place called Grossinger's). I was intrigued. I immediately called one of my bachelor buddies. I remember saying, "Joe, there's a "Singles Week" up in the Catskills. Are you interested?" He replied, "Yes."

About a week later, Joe and I mailed in our registration fees. Then, one Sunday morning in late August, Joe and I headed west on the MassPike for Grossinger's. Frankly I didn't know what to expect. I had never been to the Catskills nor, for that matter, had I ever been to a "Singles Week." The only thing I knew about the Catskills was that it had been the place where many Jewish entertainers had gotten their start.

When we arrived at Grossinger's, the scene was beyond our wildest imagination. There were more Jewish women than I'd ever seen in any one place, even the night that the Everly Brothers showed up at of our Temple Beth Hillel record hop. I just kept thinking what my mother would have said at times like these -- "You shouldn't need a shadchen!" I remember that as we pulled into the parking lot, women were arriving with racks and racks of clothing (talk about getting ferpitzsed). The only thing I could think of at the time was cartoonist Al Capp's "Sadie Hawkins Day" in Dogpatch.

That afternoon, after finding our room and unpacking, Joe and I checked out the facility. There was just about anything and everything a person might want: indoor and outdoor swimming pools, sauna and steam rooms, golf, tennis...and, of course, Jewish women. In addition, Grossinger's had that heymish feel that only a Jewish-run resort can have for another Jew.

On our first evening, Joe and I were randomly seated in the dining hall. Joe began to strike up a conversation with a young woman from Montreal, Canada. Her name was Joanne. I recall that she looked like the singer Connie Francis. That first evening I too had spotted someone. She was a woman whom I had dated when I taught on Long Island. We exchanged glances, but I decided not to rekindle our relationship.

As I think back over forty years, it was a glorious week. The weather was beautiful. The air was clean and refreshing. And yes, there were many women to socialize with. I recall that Joe and I played golf and tennis, swam in both the indoor and outdoor pools, sitzed and shvitzed in the steam and sauna rooms, ate like ferds- and, oh yes, schmoozed.

During that week, the entertainment headliner was Joan Rivers (Brooklyn-born Joan Molinsky). I enjoyed her fast-paced comedic shtik. In addition, there was an added treat. One day, Boston Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro (he had been "beaned" the previous year) showed up. He was trying to make a comeback as a pitcher. I recall watching him warm up with his catcher. I also remember wishing him luck and telling him I was from Boston.

Yet, of all the activities, the one I enjoyed the most was playing volleyball. I remember that the staff was handing out T-shirts to winning teams.

Well, as my buddy Joe continued seeing Joanne (the woman whom he had met on the first night), I was still searching (I guess, in hindsight, I was too finicky; there were certainly enough shayna maideleh to go around).

That final weekend, I did see a woman who caught my eye. She reminded me of a someone whom I had dated in the Boston area. We briefly talked and danced; but nothing came of it.

Almost as soon as it had begun, our "Singles Week" had come to an end. I had enjoyed every minute of it. It was literally tam-ganeydn. Frankly, I found it difficult to pack up and return to reality. Yet, I knew that in just a week I would need to begin preparing lesson plans and teaching history at East Boston High School.

As a postscript, Joe would meet up with Joanne in New York City a few months after they had met at Grossinger's. However, their relationship never panned out. Yet, Joe would soon meet another woman; they would be married a year later.

In my case, I never did make any lasting contacts from that late-summer "Singles Week" - not even a telephone number. In hindsight, the only thing I returned to my Boston neighborhood with were a bunch of memories, and oh yes -- about a half-dozen "Grossinger's" T-shirts.


from the January 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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