Fathers strapped luggage and toys to the roofs of minivans. Mothers were too busy hosing off chairs and folding the last of the laundry to talk about the exodus.
This scene has repeated for decades now. The day before Labor Day, Sullivan County’s Hasidic Jewish communities pack up and vanish. Shops close, bungalows empty, summer ends. Many return to the bustle of Brooklyn.
“It’s unbelievable,” bakery owner Levi Gombo said. “In three hours, everybody’s gone.”
Just two months ago, these Orthodox families, who also hail from places like Monsey and Montreal, arrived for the season and, along with other vacationers, increased the county’s population to about 250,000 people. And in one day the county’s population started its slide back down to 80,000 year-round residents.
Yet in recent years more families have tried to stay on in the winter without their neighbors. New York City is becoming too expensive, and families enjoy the serenity of the mountains, Gombo said.
But community is an integral part of the Hasidic lifestyle; it’s difficult to preserve the culture without every element intact. Hasidim vacation in groups for many reasons: They have enough children to fill a school, rabbis to lead prayer, bakers and grocers who carry Kosher food.
They also need scribes like Rabbi Michuel Errera, who will keep Catskills Judaica open this winter for the first time. He’s had an increasing number of requests for services in the off-season and hopes to have enough customers so that he, too, can live in the mountains year-round.
“Everybody’s talking about it,” Errera said of the desire to stay. But other businesses have tried to stay open in the past and failed, said Yosaif Krohn, owner of Le Chocolat.
“The fact is that it is abandoned, and you have to have so many people to afford to stay open,” Krohn said.
Bungalow residents will return on weekends to enjoy the lawns and flowers until the water is shut off. But the community won’t be the same.
A few customers came into the chocolate shop Sunday, barely a trickle compared to the height of summer. One asked how long Krohn would stay open this season.
He replied, “As long as there are people.”