This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase seven Jewish Studies titles in honor of the Jewish New Year, 5775.
Two classic Temple University Press titles highlight the Catskills resorts, which shaped American Jewish culture and attracted over a million visitors between the 1920s and the 1950s.
Catskill Culture by Phil Brown
Brown tells the stories of the many elements of this magical environment. Brown’s own experiences as a waiter, his mother’s culinary exploits as a chef, and his father’s jobs as maitre d’ and coffee shop operator offer a backdrop to the vital life of Catskills summers. Catskill Culture recounts the life of guests, staff, resort owners, entertainers, and local residents through the author’s memories and archival research and the memories of 120 others.
The Catskills enabled Jews to become more American while at the same time introducing the American public to immigrant Jewish culture. Catskills entertainment provided the nation with a rich supply of comedians, musicians, and singers. Legions of young men and women used the Catskills as a springboard to successful careers and marriages. A decline for the resort area beginning in the 1970s has led to many changes. Today most of the hotels and bungalow colonies are gone or in ruins, while other communities, notably those of the Hasidim, have appeared.
Catskill Culture includes an appendix listing over 900 hotels he has been able to document and invites readers to contact him with additional entries.
Borscht Belt Bungalows, by Irwin Richman
Borscht Belt Bungalows, by Irwin Richman, focuses not on the large hotels like Grossinger’s and the Concord, but on modest bungalow colonies and kuchaleins (“cook for yourself” places) where more than 80 percent of Catskill visitors stayed.
These were not glamorous places, and middle-class Jews today remember the colonies with either aversion or fondness. Irwin Richman’s narrative, anecdotes, and photos recapture everything from the traffic jams leaving the city to the strategies for sneaking into the casinos of the big hotels. He brings to life the attitudes of the renters and the owners, the differences between the social activities and swimming pools advertised and what people actually received. He reminisces about the changing fashion of the guests and owners—everything that made summers memorable.
The author remembers his boyhood: what it was like to spend summers outside the city, swimming in the Neversink, “noodling around,” and helping with the bungalow operation, while Grandpa charged the tenants and acted as president of Congregation B’nai.
Three sports books–one for children and one for adults–recall the legendary SPAHS, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association basketball team.
Homecourt by Larry Needle
Larry Needle’s Homecourt is a book for young readers about Louis Klotz, who played for the SPHAs and played for and coached the Washington Generals, one of the teams that faced the Harlem Globetrotters on the basketball courts for decades.
Nicknamed “Red” for his shiny red hair, Klotz may have been one of the smallest kids in his grade in South Philadelphia in 1933, but he always knew that he wanted to play basketball. Red’s journey, which started in the “cages” of South Philly, led to playing for Villanova, and for the SPHAS, where he won an American Basketball League championship.
In Homecourt: The True Story of the Best Basketball Team You’ve Never Heard Of, Larry Needle provides a biography of Red Klotz who won most of the games he played as a kid, but professionally, he lost 10,000 games against the Globetrotters. Nevertheless, Klotz is famous for scoring the winning shot against the Globetrotters in Martin, Tennessee in January, 1971—the last time the Generals beat the Globetrotters.
This illustrated book recalls the SPHAS games at the Broadwood Hotel (which now has a historical marker commemorating the team), the team’s coach, Eddie Gottlieb, and Klotz’s post-SPHAS career. It will inspire any kid who loves—or dreams of playing—basketball.
The SPHAS by Douglas Stark
Founded in 1918, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association’s basketball team, known as the SPHAS, was a top squad in the American Basketball League—capturing seven championships in thirteen seasons—until it disbanded in 1959. In The SPHAS, the first book to chronicle the history of this team and its numerous achievements, Douglas Stark includes not only rare and noteworthy images of players and memorabilia but also interviews and anecdotes to recall how players like Inky Lautman, Cy Kaselman, and Shikey Gotthoffer challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and physical inferiority as they boosted the game’s popularity. Team owner Eddie Gottlieb and Temple University coach Harry Litwack, among others profiled here, began their remarkable careers with the SPHAS.
Author Douglas Stark explores the significance of basketball to the Jewish community during the early years of the game, when Jewish players dominated the sport and a distinct American Jewish identity was on the rise. At a time when basketball teams were split along ethnic lines, the SPHAS represented the Philadelphia Jewish community. This book is an inspiring and heartfelt tale of the team on and off the court.
The Mogul by Rich Westcott
Russian-Jewish immigrant Eddie Gottlieb was one of the most powerful non-playing sports figures in Philadelphia from the 1920s until his death in 1979. A master promoter, Gottlieb—dubbed the “Mogul” for his business acumen—was influential in both basketball and baseball circles, as well as a colorful figure in his own right.
A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Gottlieb founded, played and coached for the legendary South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (SPHAS) basketball team in the 1920s and 1930s. Only 5’ 8”, Gottlieb was nevertheless a very good basketball player. But it was behind the scenes where he excelled. He coached, helped form the National Basketball Association, and owned the Philadelphia Warriors franchise for many years. He signed Wilt Chamberlain to his first NBA contract. He also created the NBA’s annual schedule of games for more than a quarter of a century. Outside basketball, Gottlieb’s achievements included co-owning the Philadelphia Stars baseball team in the Negro Leagues and trying unsuccessfully to buy the Philadelphia Phillies. He was Philadelphia’s leading sports booking agent from the 1920s into the 1950s for everything from sandlot baseball to semipro football to professional wrestling. Drawing upon dozens of interviews and archival sources, and featuring more than fifty photographs, The Mogul vividly portrays Eddie Gottlieb’s pivotal role in both Philadelphia’s and America’s sports history.
Two books about Jewish History and Life in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Jewish Life edited by Murray Friedman
In a city with a long history of high social barriers and forbidding aristocratic preserves, Philadelphia Jews, in the last half of the twentieth century, became a force to reckon with in the cultural, political and economic life of the region. From the poor neighborhoods of original immigrant settlement, in South and West Philadelphia, Jews have made, as editor Murray Friedman recounts, the move from “outsiders” to “insiders” in Philadelphia life. Essays by a diverse range of contributors tell the story of this transformation in many spheres of life, both in and out of the Jewish community: from sports, politics, political alliances with other minority groups, to the significant debate between Zionists and anti-Zionists during and immediately after the war.
Friedman takes the history of Philadelphia Jewish life to the close of the twentieth century, and looks back on how Jews have shaped—and have been shaped by—Philadelphia and its long immigrant history.
The Outsider by Dan Rottenberg
Albert M. Greenfield (1887–1967), a Russian immigrant outsider, was courted for his business acumen by mayors, senators, governors, and presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He built a business empire that encompassed real estate, department and specialty stores (Bonwit Teller and Tiffany & Co.), hotels (the Ben Franklin and the Bellevue-Stratford), banks, newspapers, transportation companies, and the Loft Candy Corporation. Greenfield challenged Philadelphia’s entrenched business elite by forming alliances among Jews, Catholics, and African Americans. He was also instrumental in bringing both major political conventions to Philadelphia in 1948.
In The Outsider, veteran journalist and best-selling author Dan Rottenberg deftly chronicles the astonishing rises, falls, and countless reinventions of this combative businessman. Greenfield’s power allowed him to cross social, religious, and ethnic boundaries with impunity. He alarmed Philadelphia’s conservative business and social leaders—Christians and Jews alike—some of whom plotted his downfall.
In this engaging account of Greenfield’s fascinating life, Rottenberg demonstrates the extent to which one uniquely brilliant and energetic man pushed the boundaries of society’s limitations on individual potential. The Outsider provides a microcosmic look at three twentieth-century upheavals: the rise of Jews as a crucial American business force, the decline of America’s Protestant Establishment, and the transformation of American cities.
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