Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort’ wistfully evokes famous upstate New York country club

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BY DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

If you looked up Wilt Chamberlain’s employment history, one of the first jobs you’ll find is the Kutsher’s Country Club. Before the man could break NBA records and go on to be one of the best in the game, he was The Borscht Belt Bellhop.

But it was Chamberlain’s relationship with the Kutsher family that epitomizes the notoriety of the place. Originally bought for farming, the Kutsher’s Country Club turned into a first-class vacation resort for the New York Jewish community. More than a place of comfort and entertainment, it was an escape zone for adults. It was designed for the city folks who wanted similar activities and schedule as they have near home, but with fresh air and better views–which included the Catskills Mountains near Monticello, N.Y., lurking nearby.

Caroline Laskow and Ian Rosenberg’s documentary, “Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Known Catskills Resort,” now streaming on Amazon Prime, provides viewers with an intimate glimpse into the popular years of the establishment–including interviews with Kutsher family member’s, the resort’s staff and some of the talent that performed there. Celebrities of all stripes would show up,  from basketball stars like Chamberlain and Bill Russell, to comedic personalities such as Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno.

All of the live acts were free of charge to whoever was staying at the resort, a rarity for businesses during those times. You were served three meals a day and generous portions to boot, something the guests didn’t pass up. At one point, you see a guy chewing on a chicken wing while ordering his meal as he tells the camera about his next meal. Another interviewee marvels at the job of a lifetime back then as a 16 or 17-year-old: the lifeguard at the resort’s pool.

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Kutsher’s redefined comfort as well as the essence of family values, as in how to create an environment of warmth and giving. More unfiltered and personable than most documentaries, this one provides a fun and informative tour of the heyday of the resort’s last standing — it closed in 2013, after filming was completed — Jewish resort in the Catskills.

Chamberlain and company helped organize and launch an annual basketball game that raised money for charity. Lots of comics got their start there, working the room as souls with stuffed bellies sat back and took in the good life. Watching it all unfold in this 71-minute film, I wanted a time machine to zip back to the 1970s.

Movie fans should instantly associate the resort with the setting of “Dirty Dancing,” a famous movie that many think was inspired by the Kutsher’s Country Club. Yes, possibly, once upon a time, Patrick Swayze could have stepped foot in the halls of Kutsher’s for “homework.” I spent the rest of the documentary waiting for the late Jerry Orbach to show up and tell me I’m not good enough. Laskow and Rosenberg’s film evokes that feeling easily as you watch their film. One can’t help but think of the excellent television series, “Red Oaks,” when watching the film.

While IMDB has the release date as 2012, reviews on the internet started circulating around 2015. Amazon Prime Video picked it up earlier this year, and it’s a nice and easy watch for the Jewish community of any city in the world to witness a place that paid homage to all that they hold dear.

The goal of documentaries should always be to inform, and “Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort” does plenty of that while showing off the way hotels used to be all about. The filmmakers also don’t shy away from showing the reason for the decline of resorts that were built like Kutsher’s, a movement that capsized with Atlantic City’s gaming establishments. That sense of loss should only crank up the nostalgia of the documentary for viewers who didn’t get a chance to go.