The Borscht Belt is burning: In the Catskills, abandoned resorts keep catching fire

International news
On a cold night last week, Barbara Hoff, the owner of an antique store in the Catskills, heard from a friend in the local fire department that the Nevele Grande Hotel was burning.

Hoff, who lives in the town of Cragsmoor on the Shawangunk Mountains, looked down into the valley below her home. She saw a smear of orange flames framed by the silhouettes of dark trees in the distance.

Hoff, 70, remembers another era, decades ago, when the Nevele was a bustling summer retreat for a largely Jewish clientele. At one time, this once-grand resort boasted 430 rooms, two golf courses, an ice skating rink and a swimming pool.

Now, this was the second fire at an abandoned hotel that Hoff had seen from her hilltop vantage point in less than a year, after the Homowack Lodge caught fire over the summer.

Both hotels were once thriving properties in the Borscht Belt, the nickname for a collection of resorts and vacation bungalows across New York’s Sullivan, Ulster and Orange counties that attracted throngs of Jewish visitors in the mid-20th century and left an indelible mark on American comedy, cinema and culture. More than half a century later, almost all of the formerly prominent hotels are out of business and are now derelict and dilapidated.

Over the past two years, they’ve been burning down — and no one knows why.

At least four formerly prominent hotels have caught fire since the summer of 2022, either partially or completely destroying disused buildings. Local fire departments have investigated the incidents but have come up with few leads. Meanwhile, they are simultaneously dispelling antisemitic conspiracy theories about the blazes.