Jewish holiday guide inspired green book for black travelers
“They came to this country looking for the streets paved with gold, but what they got was a lot of anti-Semitism,” said Alan Kook, his great-great-grandson.
Ravitz managed to buy land not far away in Pennsylvania and began to recreate the life she had enjoyed in Austria, where she had owned a prosperous farm and supplemented her winter income by hosting traveling circus troupes as boarders. , according to Kook. In Pennsylvania, too, she set up boarders in the summer, hosting friends and friends of friends seeking relief from the city heat. She would cook and entertain, styling the farm as a mountain getaway.
Ravitz was one of thousands of Jewish farmers who prospered with this hybrid farm-inn model in early 20th century America. More … than 1 million jews had immigrated to the United States in 1924, with many gatherings around New York. Working-class Jews living in cramped tenements were keen to escape to the countryside in the summer, but many hotels explicitly barred Jewish guests. That’s how people like Ravitz—and many others scattered across the Catskills, Connecticut, and New Jersey—came to run thriving boarding houses. Some will end up abandoning agriculture to expand their hotels.
The Jewish Vacation Guide, first published around 1916, compiled these addresses, along with a whole network of Jewish-owned or Jewish-friendly places where it was safe for Jews to eat, sleep, and visit. This guide, along with other travel advice like it published in the Yiddish press, served as an essential tool in navigating the potential danger of Jewish travel in early America. It even inspired the “Green Book,” a widely used guidebook for black travellers.
Anti-Semitism was widespread in 20th century America. Ku Klux Klan membership experienced a major resurgence in the 1920s, with estimates ranging from 3 million to 8 million members nationwide. While the KKK heavily targeted black Americans, Jews also faced frequent discrimination. “No Hebrews or Consumptives Accepted” read many hotel advertisements in the first quarter of the 20th century. “Gentiles only” appeared in hotel advertising, as did “Christian customers only”. A study by the Anti-Defamation League in 1957 found that virtually every state had hotels and resorts that banned Jews.
The Jewish Vacation Guide connected Jews to a network of places that not only tolerated them, but welcomed them. Dozens of ads touted kosher meals, often made with butter and farm-fresh eggs. The terms of some of the rented rooms were far from luxurious, but they made up for modest offerings in hospitality and affordability.
A farm advertisement promised: “You will feel at home. The majority of the lists were written in Yiddish, since many American Jews were immigrants or children of immigrants whose primary language was Yiddish.
A large number of properties were concentrated in the Catskill Mountains. “This is the genesis of the Catskills as a Jewish resort area. It really started as a grassroots affair: city people wanting to get out of town in the summer,” said Eddy Portnoy, academic adviser at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. “When the Jewish farmers realized this could be a lucrative prospect, they began recreating their own houses as boarding houses, or even building additional houses on their properties.” The vacation guide itself was published by the Federation of Jewish Farmers of America.
While many of the properties in the guide were family businesses, by 1917 some of the farms had begun to turn into resorts. “The Grand Mountain House” in Sullivan County, NY, for example, billed itself as a “country summer home with all the modern conveniences of the city,” including a live band, casino, billiards, tennis, baseball and a professional chef.
The success of these hotels, partly thanks to the guide, soared in the following decades. The Catskills have become a vacation hotspot. Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, for example, which was one of the region’s most successful resorts for decades, started out as a dilapidated barn in the 1910s. It grew into a sprawling resort 1,200-acre, 35-building resort, with dancing, sports, lakes and its own airstrip. Grossinger even hosted the wedding of Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor.
The guide contained not only lists of hotels, but everything one could need on vacation: auto repair, pharmacies, grocers, tailors, shoemakers and a Kodak photography studio. Traveling safely wasn’t just about finding a welcoming hotel. This involved preparing for many possible eventualities: No one wants to end up with a broken down car in the mountains, only to be denied service in a garage.
This type of scenario – denial of service, even violent retaliation – was a serious concern in Jim Crow-era America, and it inspired postman Victor Hugo Green to write a similar guide for black people. In the introduction to his “Green Book of Black Motorists”, Green credited Jewish guides as the model for his book, noting that “the Jewish press” had “long printed information about places that are restricted”. First published in 1936, the Green Book similarly listed hotels, restaurants, mechanics, barbershops and nightclubs.
Travel generally carried a much higher risk for blacks than for Jews. As the cover of the book warns: “Take your green book with you…you may need it…” Black motorists risked exclusion from “whites-only” spaces, police harassment, physical violence and even the lynching. “While we may be inclined to draw analogies between anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism, it’s important to identify where those analogies end,” said Eli Rosenblatt, assistant professor of religious studies at Northwestern University. . “Jews who were predominantly of European descent at the time only took advantage of spaces reserved for whites.”
Both guides would eventually become obsolete. In 1967, three years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, the Green Book ceased publication. It’s unclear when the Jewish Vacation Guide ceased publication, but for Jewish travelers the expansion of the Catskills into a sought-after mid-century travel destination meant they had their pick of hotels much earlier. .
When black and Jewish Americans both faced frequent housing discrimination, they sometimes opened up to each other. In the early 1950s, Grossinger’s invited Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play major league baseball, to stay for the summer. Grossinger’s, which began as a ramshackle farmhouse offering relief from city stress and anti-Semitism, had become an oasis. The Grossinger family extended the feeling of “heimish” – what Portnoy described as intimate comfort – to a man struggling with constant discrimination and harassment.
“I doubt she [Jennie Grossinger] knew or could have fully appreciated how important the invitation was to Jack and me in the early 1950s,” Robinson’s wife Rachel wrote in her memoir. For their family, there were few hotels”compete with the Big G.”