Photo Credit: Dr. Lelonek
The gazebo in Tannersville where Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, and Rav Reuvain Grozovsky studied Torah.

While many big-name kosher destinations in the Catskills have disappeared, one lesser known enclave continues to thrive: Tannersville – centrally located between Hunter, Haines Falls, East Jewett, and Plattekill Mountain.

For over 200 years, Tannersville – named for the tanners and traders of yore – has served as the cool alternative to the hot and humid summers of New York City. As a former trading hub, Tannersville sprouted inns and boarding houses to accommodate traders, which then hosted vacationers from New York City who could afford to spend the summer there.

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By the 1880s, Jews started coming to Tannersville in sizable numbers, and in 1902 the community built the Anshei HaShoran synagogue. Retaining its original beauty and charm, the building and synagogue still stands today and continues to provide a rich, warm and welcoming focal point for the thriving Jewish community.

Among other who vacationed in Tannersville in these early years were Solomon Schechter of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Macy’s owner Nathan Strauss. Tannersville was also the home of the annual American Federation of Zionists convention at this time.

In 1902, Solomon Schecheter arrived in America to head the Jewish Theological Seminary. He promptly skipped the Seminary’s final exams and commencement in protest of their lax religious standards and started summering in Tannersville instead. In 1906, he was a central figure at the Zionist convention and endorsed the position that “Zionism is nothing without Judaism.” At the banquet, the crowd of 300 supported Schechter’s position and chanted “Alef! Bez! Gimmel! Daled! Hay! Vav! Zion! Schechter! Schechter! Schechter!”

In the 1920s and ‘30s, illustrious European rabbis infused Tannersville with an aura of Torah and holiness. During their busy fundraising trips from Russia and Lithuania, they rested and studied Torah in Tannersville at the home of Sam and Necha (Annie) Golding. In 1926, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Knesses Yisrael in Slabodka – whose talmidim included such luminaries as Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Reuvein Grozovsky, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, and Rav Dovid Leibowitz – was the Goldings’ guest and studied Torah in the gazebo on their property.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding – chief operating officer of Agudath Israel of America and grandson of Necha and Sam Golding – recounts the following anecdote: “HaRav Moshe Mordechai, although not in the best of health, came to the United States to raise funds for his yeshiva, and its expansion to Chevron in Palestine. After one week’s rest, HaRav Moshe Mordechai was ready to leave [Tannersville].

“‘Stay one more month,’ pleaded Mr. Golding. ‘Be our guest. Your health is not the best. After all, what is the most that you could raise in one month?’

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“‘If the Ribbono shel Olam helps me,’ said HaRav Moshe Mordechai, ‘I can possibly raise $5,000.’ (Five thousand dollars was considered an astronomically large sum in those days.)

“Without blinking an eye, Mr. Golding countered, ‘If I give you a check for $5,000 today, will you stay with us for one more month?’ After a moment’s hesitation, HaRav Moshe Mordechai answered, ‘Yes!’ and the check was delivered that day!”

In 1928, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz (head of the Kneseth Beis Yitzchak Yeshiva in Slobodka and Kamenetz) and his son-in-law Rav Reuvain Grozovsky (head of Kneseth Beis Yitzchak Yeshiva in Kamenetz) made the trek to the Golding’s Tannersville home to rest and study in the same gazebo – as did Rav Elchonon Wasserman 10 years later in 1938.

I was first introduced to Tannersville when I married Mia Slotkin, whose family had long been staples in Tannersville. My wife has said “Growing up in Manhattan, the change of pace and back to nature experience I enjoyed every summer in Tannersville was so refreshing and awe inspiring.”

Tannersville provides all the support systems and establishments necessary for an Orthodox community, and I am excited bringing the next generation into the fold. My kids love it! They spend their days at Camp Sharon, the local day camp, and have so many summer friends there. Yearly, I look forward to attending Rabbi Hershel Schachter’s shiurim after the hashkama minyan, speaking with the Bostoner Rebbe of Flatbush, Rabbi Pinchos Dovid Horowitz, and learning about the history of the great Lithuanian rabbis who rested in Tannersville to Rabbi Joseph Breuer of Washington Heights and beyond.

For me, studying Tannersville’s history provided me a window into the intersection of American and Jewish history. Painter Thomas Cole, writer Mark Twain, boxer Benny Leonard, New York Supreme Court Justice David Leventritt, and moguls from all areas of business and banking spent their summers in Tannersville, sailing up the Hudson before ascending the mountain by horse and carriage and later by railroad and then automobile. The area reached its peak popularity in 1913 when the Ulster and Delaware railroad transported 766,000 passengers to the region.

In conducting research for The Jewish History of Tannersville, New York – which I published last week – I was surprised to discover that the cousin who sponsored my great great-grandparents to come to America was among the founders of the Jewish community.

Now, 130 years later, my family spends time with Jews from all Orthodox backgrounds – including Satmar, Belz, Lubavitch, German-Jewish, Litvish, and Modern Orthodox – who come together to celebrate life events at that very special place called Tannersville.

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Dr. Gary Lelonek is the author of the recently-published The Jewish History of Tannersville, New York: A Village in the Catskills. All royalties will be donated to the Tannersville synagogue, Anshei HaShoran.