The Four Seasons Lodge (available on Prime) is a precious documentary about a group of Holocaust survivors who travel to the Catskills each summer to spend time together catching up, reminiscing, dancing, singing, playing cards, swimming, drinking and worshipping.
Little cottages dot the picturesque property and every year the groundskeeper airs them out in time to welcome their aging guests. Vintage movies taken at the Four Seasons decades earlier show how vibrant all these couples once were. At the height of their popularity, there were 150 of these so called summer “colonies” in the “Borscht Belt” of upstate New York. Also referred to as the Jewish Alps, this was THE place to vacation starting in the 1920s. In 2008, the year the movie was made, only about 20 of these properties were still open.
This was going to be the last year at the Four Seasons, but halfway through, the friends start having second thoughts about never coming back again. This is where the tears start to well as we see how aging and illness affect couples so differently.
One woman’s husband knows he cant possibly come back because he is going to start needing dialysis three times a week. “I’m still young!” his despondent wife wails, “I still want to dance!” Another man is rushed from the Four Season’s Lodge to the local hospital during filming. Once admitted and in a bed, he casually comments to his wife that he needs a manicure. “You need a body cure!” she snorts in response.
This movie also highlights the deep and abiding friendships these Holocaust survivors developed once they arrived in America. In one jarring scene, every wrinkled arm around the card table bares an identification tattoo from a concentration camp. What also hit home was these friends’ collective positivity and their determination to live a good life in spite (and maybe because) of the tremendous suffering they had all endured. If you pay close attention you can collect their words of reassurance as you watch:
“You have to believe in something..”
“Tomorrow is another day!”
“Life can be beautiful, even when it’s not easy”
This move tugged at my heart, kicked me in the pants and made me want to learn to play bridge. 😉 It also made me long for the day, hopefully soon, when we can all get back together with friends and family, sit on the sofa, relax, laugh and just “be” again.
Marissa Scheinfeld traveled through the Catskills taking pictures of long abandoned colonies for her book ‘The Borscht Belt.’ While my first inclination seeing her photos was to be sad, I soon realized that these relics of the past are reminders that a good life that can be built after ruin. You can almost hear the echo of laughter and music and the encouragement of those who used to gather in these places…Time is ticking, life is precious, make the most of every day and remember..
“It’s going to be alright.”
Photos by Marisa Scheinfeld from The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland