Sweet Remembrances of Rosh HaShanah in Kauneonga Lake

20 Sep

From the time I was seven or eight we spent every Rosh HaShanah in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, NY. Unlike most people who left their summer bungalows to return to the ‘City’ on Labor Day weekend and did not return until the next summer, we always came back to celebrate the holiday.

My grandparents owned a small bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake. This meant that after the season ended, the bungalows had to be closed for the winter. Water drained; windows covered; everything locked up. My Mom and Dad would help my grandparents perform many of these chores. And when we got older, my siblings and I would also help out.

Since my grandparents owned a ‘real’ house in Kauneonga Lake, we always had a place to stay. The house was sub-divided into four apartments by the woman who owned it before my grandparents. After they purchased it in 1962, my grandparents returned it into one home, with four bedrooms, and lots of spaces to sleep. There was also an attached apartment that they remodeled.

Over the years the house has seen many additions and upgrades. But the most important part was that it had heat and was livable all year. So for Rosh HaShanah, the five of us always went to stay with my grandparents to celebrate the holiday and the start of a sweet and wonderful year.

Our home was located about a mile and a half from the synagogue, Congregation Temple Beth El. This meant no heels for my Mom or Grandma. It was a long walk in a dress and nice shoes. We had to make our new finery stay in good shape as we walked. Along the way we often met up with others who were going to shul.

When the holidays were close to Labor Day, there were many more who stayed to celebrate. Some even kept their boats on the Lake for the extra weekend. It could be very warm when it was early in September, but sometimes, later in the month, it could be extremely cold on Rosh HaShanah.

Going to shul was a treat and fun. Everyone knew my grandparents and, of course, us. The shul was full. Men sat downstairs; women sat upstairs in the balcony, except for the few elderly women who sat in the two rows of seats behind the mehitzah on the first floor.  (See blog below for more about Beth El.)

I liked it when I was very young and could sit with my grandfather in the main floor, and he would cover me with his tallit. But eventually, that ended. My Mom, sister and I would climb the narrow staircase, and sit with the other women.

My Cousin took this photo from the women's balcony, at least 26 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima. My Cousin took this photo from the women’s balcony, at least 26 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima.

It was different in the balcony. We could see everything that was going on down below. We watched the men with the torah and listened to the chanting. I loved to watch when the Cohanim went forward to do the dukhanen, my grandfather among them. While upstairs, we did pray, but we could also chat and visit. As I got older, I began to resent being upstairs. But it was I tradition I was so used to that I never argued.

We went both days of the holiday and stayed till about 1 pm. Then would come the long walk back to the house after the Kiddish. I could not wait to get home. There was always fresh raisin challah baked by my grandfather. I loved eating the raisin challah for breakfast schmeared with cream cheese. YUM!

For lunch there always was warm soup made by my grandmother. Grandma was not a great cook, but her soup was wonderful: chicken soup, with delicious chicken feet filled with fat immersed in the brew. And if it was mushroom barley soup there were always knee bones to thicken the broth.

Grandma and I were the ones who loved to nibble around these items!

My Grandma made the best homemade egg noodles as well. She would put towels on all the chairs and hang the cooked noodles on them to dry. These were usually for Pesach, but I begged her to make them for Rosh Hashanah as well. I loved making them with her.

When I became a teen, and my friends were up for the holidays, the routine changed.   We often walked to shul together. One stayed at the Indian Lake House for Rosh HaShanah. Her family rented a bungalow from my grandparents, but by the holiday the bungalows were all closed for the season. So her family rented rooms at this bed and breakfast on West Shore Road. The other’s grandmother lived on West Shore Road, and his parents had a home in the White Lake Estates. We would visit on the terrace of the synagogue before services.

After services and after lunch with our families, we would meet. If it was early in September, the one friend always had his family’s boat for us to go out on. We would bring our homework, and take a boat ride to Camp Hi Li’s raft. We would sit on the platform raft doing our homework on the lake. What a great place to study!

As my grandparents aged, they could no longer walk all the way to the synagogue, so my Grandpa would drive most of the way. He would park his car across from Sylvia’s S & G, ‘shlock’ store. I remember saying, “Grandpa, why don’t you just park at the shul? It is just over the hill!”

He looked at my like I was crazy. “You walk to shul on the holidays!” He said. He was from Europe. And traditions were very important. Grandpa was a Cohan. He had rules that he had to follow and obligations that he had to keep.

When I was very young, there was a deli, Elfenbaum’s, almost directly across from the synagogue. We would stock up on special treats there. It closed when I was about 10. I still miss that deli. I remember going there on Sunday mornings with my Dad during the summer and then right before Rosh HaShanah to have delicacies for the holiday.

We usually spent Yom Kippur at our synagogue in New Jersey, unless the holiday was very early in September and on a weekend.   Then we would go back to the Catskills. But Yom Kippur was much more strict. Although, we, the children, were allowed to eat, I always felt the sadness of this holiday more when I was with my grandparents. Of course, when we were older and fasting, that walk back home seem to take forever!

But still I loved going to the shul on the hill. We loved sitting outside on the terrace before services began, or coming outside to take a break when it got too hot upstairs.

I see myself standing in the balcony. And as I am leaving the synagogue, as it empties, I call down to a friend. It is only the two us left. Every one else is out.   Rosh HaShanah is over.   “See you next summer. Next year in Kauneonga Lake.”




8 Responses to “Sweet Remembrances of Rosh HaShanah in Kauneonga Lake”

  1. Jacob Frommer September 22, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Hello Zicharonot! My name is Jacob Frommer. I actually wrote a wordpress blog for years. Either way, I came across your blog because I have been searching for Butensky’s. Allow me to explain- for about 7 years, my family would get Butensky’s for special Sunday evening dinners. My favorite thing in the world was their knishes. I live in NYC and have yet to find a better knish. I even called Kenny a few years ago, in Florida, and asked him to share the recipe. Unfortunately, he could barely remember the recipe.

    I am writing to you because I seek 1 thing- WHAT WAS THE PASTRY DOUGH BUTENSKY’S USED ON THEIR KNISHES? I have made a very good, tasty potato filling but cannot find the type of pastry dough he used. If you can supply any hint as to what type it was, that would be HUGE!

    MY email address is jacobfrommer@gmail.com. I am 27, live in nyc, and love a good knish. Thanks and shana tova!

    • zicharon September 22, 2014 at 11:58 am #

      Jacob. I will pass your question on to their daughter. Shana tova to you as well.

  2. Harvey Rosenberg September 8, 2018 at 4:53 pm #

    Temple BethEl is just the way you remembered it except it became Conservative with men and women davening together. We celebrated over 90 years a couple of years back and this Holiday have sold out the Temple. Your reminisces struck a chord with me especially stories of your grandparents and their cooking, since my life, then in Brooklyn was a parallel universe. My life now as a resident of White Lake Estates is fulfilled by my blowing the Shofar during services, L’Shana Tovah!!!

    • zicharon September 8, 2018 at 5:10 pm #

      I still visit ever summer and keep my membership at Temple Beth El. Shana Tova. So glad the shul is doing so well.

  3. Sherry Rothberg September 8, 2018 at 6:04 pm #

    L’shana tovah!! Raisin challah–yes!! Sweet, happiness, smiling, laughing!! 🕍✡🕍✡🕍

    • zicharon September 8, 2018 at 6:08 pm #

      The holidays were always wonderful when we were children. And even now the taste of raisin challah cheers me up.

  4. Henry Schuh August 23, 2021 at 6:57 pm #

    We stayed in Kauneonga Lake from 46 to 57. Behind Polmans was a shul. Don’t remember the name but used to go on Shabbat. Anyone remember?

    • zicharon August 23, 2021 at 7:06 pm #

      The orthodox one? Rabbi Fishbein or something like that. I think it is still there. Congregation Beth El, which is right on the main road, is still operating. It is no longer orthodox.

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