Photo Credit: Courtesy
A color postcard depicting the original shul, built by Harry Fischel (not the current shul). It was issued some time in the first half of the previous century.

At least two articles and many social media posts recently went viral alleging that a large multi-generational Orthodox Jewish family of over 30 people at a hotel in the historic Catskill Mountains town of Hunter, N.Y., was expelled on a Shabbat because some children were deemed noisy.

The hotel has put out a statement claiming that its mass eviction on the Shabbat was merely a response to noise that caused other guests to check out early as well as concerns for the safety of the children, though the statement (1) didn’t deny that the hotel was notified in advance there would be many children, (2) didn’t describe any of the dangers the children purportedly faced or posed, nor did the statement (3) address the claim that the hotel rejected an offer by the parents to stay in their rooms with their children for the balance of the Shabbat, nor did it (4) address the point that if the objecting guests had already checked out on their own, the remaining children could no longer have bothered them. The hotel says now that all are welcome and it is working with community leaders to demonstrate that this is the case.

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This writer will let others deal with the follow up, but will just deal with the fallout, to put it all in perspective and to assure one and all that the town of Hunter should always be known and remembered for its wonderful role in Jewish history, and not for the recent occurrence, which should not put a cloud on the good name of the town and most of the townspeople.

In other words, people should visit the town for the reasons that have made it a special place for so many Jews for over a century; for its wonderful Jewish vacationers to associate and interact with; and for its historic synagogues – past and present.

At the turn of the century, Hunter was the place to be for many of the elite traditional Jews of New York every summer. It was and remains on a higher elevation or altitude than “the other side” of the Catskill Mountains – noted for Liberty and Monticello – and has been likened to Switzerland for its scenery and its fresh cool mountain air, even in much of the summer. My great-grandfather, Harry Fischel, the famous Orthodox Jewish philanthropist of his era, built what was reputedly the first free-standing synagogue in the Catskills there in 1906. Fischel also renovated a huge private house around that time, adding a built-in mikvah and sukkah, now a nationally registered historic place (though “the Fairlawn” as it is now known, is now a boutique first class bed and breakfast – to the extent any non-kosher place can be considered first class – and without the mikvah and sukkah), as is the synagogue across the street which was built in part with construction material he donated.

During the Holocaust, my grandfather, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein (subject of my book The Maverick Rabbi, 1984, 1986) who had vacationed there even before he met and married one of Fischel’s daughters, famously delivered sermons there (what else is a rabbi to do on his “vacations?”), most noted, to this day, for his appeals in the 1940s for Hatzalah, which in those days meant saving Jews from the Nazis, not transporting Jews to hospitals and applying first aid – not to denigrate the need for both, of course.

(My grandfather also made appeals for many other organizations from that pulpit, then and in later years; helping individuals and charities when occupying pulpits seems to have been in his DNA.)

In the 1960s, Hunter attracted leaders of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, most famously the Bobover Rebbe, ob”m, and the Bluzhever Rebbe, ob”m, along with many less notable personalities. Among the many other families that vacationed there in those days were those of Rabbi Naftali Friedler, ob”m, of Breuers, Rabbi Shmuel Shmaya Wiesner, ob”m, of the Wiesner House, Rabbi Yehuda Parnes, y”l, of Yeshiva University and then Touro, Rav Dovid Singer, ob”m, of Borough Park, and some of my childhood friends including Abie Rotenberg, y”l, before he became a world-famous composer, and his cousin Joseph Rotenberg, ob”m, my classmate – and part-time Hunter baal korei – who wrote a book entitled Timeless Travels (2017), with a moving and meaningful chapter about Hunter entitled “A Call for Unity: The Hunter Shul.” Not everyone was traditional, but all were welcome – and still are.

The president of the shul in my youth was Israel Slutzky, of the Slutzky brothers who built the Hunter Mountain Ski Slope and pioneered artificial snow to supplement what nature provided. I had the privilege of serving as gabbai of the Hunter shul during my teen years, with the responsibility of giving out the honors and making sure there was a suitable baal korei and chazzan for all the services. I also composed the announcements for the president to read Shabbat morning. I’ll never forget how the president slightly altered the text I prepared for him the Shabbat when the Chief Rabbi of England was present. Mr. Slutzky announced, “We welcome the father-in-law of Michelle Tauber, and the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire” (Lord Immanuel Jakobovits), giving his two titles of interest to us in that order.

One of the “big three” matzah companies for decades was Horowitz and Margareten, and one of the landmarks in the Jewish community in Hunter was the gated mini-community known as Margareten Park. When young boys took turns collecting coins into the charity box at every weekday service, Mr. Fred Margareten would have us come to him every Sunday morning, open the charity box in his presence, and he would match the total for that morning (the largest haul of the week). At the end of the summer, he would ask me (and later my brother) for the names of 10 of the most consistent boys who attended the daily minyan, and he would mail each a box seat ticket to a Yankees baseball game, plus spending money, with a meaningful cover letter. (I was told that he later distributed tickets to Met games, thankfully after “my time.”)

The summer visitors were and remain clearly more traditional than the year-round residents, but for 35 years the gap was bridged on the Yomim Noraim, by the charismatic Rabbi Jonathan Krug (who had played the guitar, at least once, in his youth, with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach) and Rabbi Benzion Sheinfeld. This year, for the first time, the year-round residents will have a new arrangement, but hopefully there will continue to be room in the community for the traditionalists and those that are not.

A color postcard depicting the original shul, built by Harry Fischel (not the current shul). It was issued some time in the first half of the previous century, and on the back, along the side, it says “SOUVENIR POST CARD CO. NEW YORK PRINTED IN GERMANY.”

A unique rabbi who continues to serve as an anchor in the summer and year-round communities is Rabbi Neal Harris, who has a small bed and breakfast there throughout the year, by reservation, and hosts a website as well, Huntershul.com, to serve the needs of the community.

(In fact, Rabbi Harris spoke with me for this article: “I am pleased to report that a meeting was held with the town supervisor and members of both the Hunter and Tannersville Jewish community regarding the incident at the Hunter Lodge. The meeting was both positive and productive. Future meetings are being planned to address our concerns. I wish to thank those that participated for their time and efforts on our behalf.”)

Coming full cycle, although I myself haven’t been making an annual summer pilgrimage to Hunter regularly in recent years (to put it mildly), I continue to be impressed by the warmth and spirit of the religious vacationers who share positive childhood memories, and whose families therefore keep returning, for generations, as well as complete newcomers. Nobody should be deterred by the recent headlines, or the response or over-response that triggered this article. Again, the hotel’s official position – now – is that all are welcome.


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Rabbi Aaron I. Reichelm esq., has written, edited, or supplemented various books, most notably about rabbis and community leaders in his family. But one of his most enduring memories is hearing that his grandmother who he remembers as always being in a wheelchair consistently said that her favorite English song was “Count your blessings.”