the jewish alps

THE ADDRESS IN THE GARMIN ended with Parksville, New York. But to get from lower New York to upper New York you have to go through New Jersey. The master Garmin sent me through the Lincoln Tunnel, and New York glitz faded into Jersey ruin with each westward avenue. By the time I emerged on the other side of the Hudson, I knew well where I was — Chris Christie’s state, the tax-rich, high-income land of rotten infrastructure. Time-eaten bridges that resemble the weathered limestone of Yucatan archaeological sites, tomb-like wetlands that grow unhappily around electric towers. The sprawl arrives and gives way in pleasant waves of Lowe’s, Home Depot, Michaels, Best Buy, Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Michaels, Best Buy, Shoprite.

But soon you see the hills, the fuzzy gray Ramapo mountains, known for a mysterious triracial isolate — the mountain people — who are thought to descend from local Indians, free Blacks, and Dutch settlers, even Hessian mercenaries from the Revolutionary War. Now you are back in New York State, heading up into Rip Van Winkle country, sleepy hollows of mysteries. The Catskills, little settlements and towns with generic and oddball names. In Sullivan County, there is a ghost town called Neversink. It lies at the bottom of a New York City Reservoir.

Somewhere in the same county I started to encounter large billboards for breads and meats. LIEBER’S: KING OF KOSHER FOODS. MANISCHEWITZ: QUALITY SINCE 1888. Little Orthodox Jewish boys and girls with golden locks and heads covered, eyes revealing the pleasures of rye bread and pastrami. And then the shanty shops built into the hills with the yellow and black signs: WE BUY GOLD. Many miles northwest of Rockefeller Center, where the late autumn fog and moisture at last gave way to sun-kissed cliffs and a light dusting of snow, I had stumbled upon a melange of Crown Heights and Gold Rush Era California.

When I arrived at the maple candies factory, the cheerful ruddy owner asked me how my trip had been and I told him about the signs. “What?” he said, “you mean you haven’t ever heard of the Jewish Alps?” “The Jewish Alps?” I imagined men in long black coats on skis, trailed by faithful Saint Bernards, each of whom bore a barrel of rescue Manischewitz wine around its neck. “Every summer, the population of Sullivan County swells to about 150,000 from 76,000,” the jolly owner said. “They all come up from the city. There are dozens of youth camps, too. Three right down the road from here.” “And they put all those signs up so that Jewish families will be reminded to buy Kosher matzo and wine when they’re driving up?” “You betcha.”

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