(AMHERST, Mass.) – Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld will give a talk about her exhibit Echoes from the Borscht Belt: Contemporary Photographs at the Yiddish Book Center on Sunday, August 2, at 2pm. The exhibit of large-scale photographs documenting the dramatic decline of the once-popular resort area is at the Yiddish Book Center’s Brechner Gallery through November 22.
In her talk, Scheinfeld will discuss growing up in the shadow of the iconic Borscht Belt (so called because of its popularity with Jews from the New York region), which at its peak in the mid-20th century was home to hundreds of resorts, hotels and vacation bungalows, as well as clubs where top comedians and other performers regularly appeared.
By the time Scheinfeld was growing up there in the 1980s and ’90s, the area was in serious decline due to economic and demographic shifts. One by one the resorts and hotels closed, and eventually fires, vandalism, wrecking balls and decay left the area populated with ruins.
For the past five years, Scheinfeld has documented the fate of those shuttered hotels and clubs through a series of evocative, hauntingly beautiful images. While there are no people in the vacated spaces she photographs, Scheinfeld’s large-scale images are, in their way, full of life. Some suggest past occupants: a hotel kitchen filled with neatly stacked pots, as if the chef has stepped away for just a moment; a lounge chair, its lines suggesting a reclining body, sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool that’s now covered in grass.
Some of the photos suggest more recent visitors: a dining room that local kids have commandeered for paint-gun battles; a once-grand lobby that’s been transformed into a makeshift, graffiti-covered skate park. In other images, nature asserts its presence: moss climbing the walls of a long-vacant guest room, ferns growing through the cracked bottom of an indoor pool.
“Many of these former hotels are in a true state of ruin — a word that conjures up feelings from awe and sadness to trepidation and fear,” Scheinfeld says. “But within these ruins I also have found new growth, a peculiar beauty and a sense of peace.”
In addition to photographs, Echoes from the Borscht Belt includes items from Scheinfeld’s personal collection of ephemera from the area’s heyday, among them hotel ashtrays, matchbooks and room keys, period postcards, and dining room menus offering brisket and gefilte fish and — of course — “ice cold beet borscht.”
Echoes from the Borscht Belt: Contemporary Photographs by Marisa Scheinfeld was developed and curated by Yeshiva University Museum. It will be at the Yiddish Book Center through November 22.
Founded in 1980, the Yiddish Book Center is a nonprofit organization working to tell the whole Jewish story by rescuing, translating and disseminating Yiddish books and presenting innovative educational programs. The Center is home to a million Yiddish books, permanent and visiting exhibits, and two performance halls offering a year-round schedule of educational programs, concerts, films and events. The Yiddish Book Center is a winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for service to the community.