When I was young, our Toronto family – like most Jews who could afford to do so – occasionally spent holiday time in the Catskill mountains’ “Borscht Belt.” Grossingers and its arch-rival, The Concord, were the area’s two most lavishly endowed resorts. But there were countless others. Even the most modest of the Borscht Belt hotels guaranteed excellence in two pastimes: Feasting and entertainment.
The eating was strictly kosher, and the entertainment was – well, not always kosher, but definitely Jewish.
By day, poolside, we laughed through games of Simon Says, led by one of the resort’s many staff “tummlers” — “tuml” means “noise” in Yiddish — all aspiring entertainers (Jerry Lewis, amongst innumerable other Jewish comedians, started as a Catskills waiter). By night, we laughed at established stand-up comics, including Myron Cohen, Buddy Hackett and Joey Bishop.
Wherever European-descended Jews have lived in modern times, their humour has penetrated…
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