Oct. 11 2016 05:11 PM

A new book documents the long-abandoned Borscht Belt

    Marisa Scheinfeld
    Photo by Walter Briski Jr.

    Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld has had the cops called on her a number of times over the last few years. She all but admits to being a perpetual trespasser while working on her recently released book, The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America's Jewish Vacationland, which documents the abandoned hotels and resorts of the Catskills Mountains in upstate New York.

    "I certainly preferred to get permission, but I did trespass," says Scheinfeld, from her home near Katonah, New York. "The police would come to arrest me and ask me what I was doing there. I'd tell them I was working on a project, and they'd just look at me like, 'What? What are you doing here? There's nothing here.'"

    There most certainly was something there. Scheinfeld says there were 538 hotels and properties in the area. Between the '20s and '60s, the area became known as the Borscht Belt or "Jewish Alps" thanks to the influx of Jewish vacationers who flocked there.

    "Yes, it was for the Jews and was created because Jews were banned from other places," says Scheinfeld.

    Scheinfeld moved to San Diego from New York in 2002. She began working on the Borscht Belt project while she was a graduate student at San Diego State University. This work resulted in a solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla. She eventually moved back to New York in 2011 to finish the project. The Borscht Belt book is composed of 129 original photos of nearly 40 properties. The 120mm pics are accented with varying ephemera such as vintage photos and quotes from the likes of Mel Brooks and Larry King, among others.

    Scheinfeld covered everything from flocks of birds living in hotel suites to swimming pools that had been taken over by the forest. "What's really interesting is that what occurred in this space, in this Jewish vacation land. It impacted and spilled over into mainstream popular culture. Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, they all polished their chops in the showrooms there."

    Scheinfeld will be coming back to San Diego to promote the book on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m. the Athenaeum. She'll also appear as a guest speaker at the Medium Festival of Photography on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 3 p.m. at the Lafayette Hotel in North Park.

    "Yes, I made the work in the Catskills, but for a lot of this work, I was living and editing in San Diego," Scheinfeld says. "You might not see it, but San Diego has a lot of presence in this book for me."


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