The Catskill vacation refuge offering a strictly kosher cuisine combined with lavish night club entertainment and sports program has become an institution on the American scene. Here, Morris Freedman concludes his report of Grossinger’s, considered by many to be the apotheosis of resorts; the first part of his study appeared last month.
Grossinger Hotel and Country Club is one of the fabled resorts in New York’s Catskill vacation region. Begun on a shoe string forty years ago it has progressed from having to put guests in tents to an establishment that includes night clubs, a swimming pool, a riding academy, a dining room for 1300, an air conditioned card playing room, a dance studio, and a ski slope, and which welcomes with luxurious accommodations nearly fifty thousand guests a year, many of them sports, business, entertainment, and political celebrities. Grossinger’s is also noted for its strict adherence to Jewish dietary laws. I planned my week to be there for Yom Kippur services so that I could see the resort in several of its various aspects.
On Yom Kippur eve dinner was served at five o’clock, two hours earlier than usual, and most guests came early. The air was festive, with the women wearing their mink coverings, and semi-formal gowns. A few wore white, to make their new year a “light” one, it was explained to me. Late-comers walked in wishing those already seated “A Happy New Year”; Mrs. Berle, Millie’s mother, then in the best of health, who had been spending the summer at Grossinger’s, and her sister, nodded to everyone, although the rest of the week they had been rather reserved except when approached for autographed pictures of Miltie.
The meal was, as expected, a huge one, with a bottle of Kosher-for-Passover wine on each table, and a dish of honey to dip the challah into. Immediately after the meal, the women went downstairs to the long, narrow room that serves as the rabbi’s study to light memorial candles. When table space inside the room was filled, the overflow of candles was clustered on metal trays standing on the ping-pong tables just outside. I was moved by the transformation of some of the older women as they put down their mink scarves and hunched forward, covering their eyes with their hands and murmuring the prayer. Finishing, they straightened up with a shake, flung their minks again over their shoulders, and went off on their high heels to the services. (Two nights before, the svelte grandmother of six grandchildren had won a dancing contest in the night club; all week, I saw only one woman in kerchief, ill-fitting cloth coat, brown cotton stockings, and high shoes, looking like the pictures of “Mom” Grossinger, the late matriarch of the establishment, posted on the walls of the canteen.)
Services were held in the Playhouse. This large building, used during the height of the summer season as a vaudeville house and a second night club, can hold a thousand persons. The main area, as one entered, was usually open floor space that led directly to a platform built out from the stage. To the left were several levels on which stood tables covered with white cloths, and chairs; chairs also surrounded the floor on the right, off which French doors opened on a big flagstone area. The walls and ceilings were paneled with fresh-looking knotty pine. But the main floor was crowded this Yom Kippur eve with small metal folding chairs. Since night club lighting is indirect and dim, long black wires with big, naked, bright bulbs hung down from the ceiling all over the room, giving the place a somewhat garish look. The platform was draped in alternate layers of white and pale blue satin, and the proscenium consisted of a pale blue arch on which glittering white arrowhead leaves and stems were imposed. Behind this, the Ark was covered with white silk drapes with gold engraving. The Tablet of the Commandments was brightly spotlighted, and everything else was fully lit. Prayer shawls, white paper skullcaps, and texts of the Yom Kippur ritual in English and Yiddish were at the entrance.
Cantor Leibele Waldman came out to the lectern; the twenty white-gowned members of the choir took their places behind him; the choir master turned his back to the hall; services began. In accord with the requirement that no leather be worn on the feet on fasting days, the leader of the procession carrying the Torah around the platform had white sneakers on under his black trousers. Cantor Waldman, who, it was gossipped, receives between six and ten thousand dollars for officiating at Grossinger’s during the High Holy Days and Passover, chanted in a smooth, controlled tenor, his lips carefully pursed. Occasionally, he rapped the lectern sharply for silence, looking sternly out over the congregation. There had been some jockeying for seats before services in order to gain places from which the little boys in the choir, who stood on the left side of the platform, could be watched as they sang their solos. Most had tinny, painfully unmelodic voices, but they performed prodigious feats in reaching high notes; the voice of one broke as he was straining for a Lily Pons level, and smiles broke out in the choir and in the audience; before, there had been murmurings of approval.
After “Kol Nidre,” Harry Grossinger’s brother-in-law, Meyer Pesin, New Jersey Tax Commissioner, delivered the traditional speech for charity. His black, rakishly tilted Homburg gave him a theatrical appearance, and he fell into the entertainer’s repetitive patter of superlatives and exaggerations as he urged donations for the Jewish National Fund, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Youth Aliyah. Paul Grossinger, Harry and Jennie’s son, conducted the actual solicitation, over $11,000 being raised in less than an hour; the pledges were recorded backstage (by a gentile employee), and announcements made periodically. After this was done, Jennie herself came to the platform to deliver a gracious and charming thanks, and a general welcome.
Services, which were resumed after she took her seat, lasted till close to eleven o’clock, and were held throughout the next day. The ritual was rigidly Orthodox, I was told by the leader of the procession, Dr. A. Abba Walker, a New York dentist who also blew the shofar and is a member of the executive board of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. Indeed, he sounded the shofar at 7:33, more than a half hour after the astronomical sunset at 6:59, thus following one of the more extreme Orthodox tenets that day actually ends not at sunset but only when all sunlight has vanished from the earth. He told me that the Grossingers had given him complete freedom in shaping the services. His one objection was the mixing of men and women in the congregation. One handsome young woman insisted on sitting apart for the full period of the service, but she was the only woman I saw who was so scrupulous. The only English spoken during the services was by the staff rabbi who announced in a low voice over the public address system the pages of the text.
Breakfast was served on Yom Kippur morning in the dining room to a few people who wanted it, but the dining room was then closed for the rest of the day, though there was some informal indication that if necessary you could be “taken care of.”
In general, Grossinger’s is meticulously Orthodox and has gone to some lengths to maintain this. In the early days, one account records, Selig Grossinger, the founder and Jennie’s father, was challenged by a pair of Talmudists for serving milk in the barn directly from the cow only five hours after the noon meat meal: the Talmud requires a period of six hours to elapse between meat and dairy meals. He responded by finding a text in the Talmud that permitted departures from this prescription for reasons of health, and why else did his guests come to the country except to drink fresh milk at five o’clock for reasons of health? A more serious problem arose about Friday night and Saturday activities. The threat of less pious competitors loomed. Jennie Grossinger is said to have journeyed to a sage living on New York’s East Side, and he provided an ancient and honorable solution. Now the entire Grossinger establishment is turned over every Friday at sunset to a Gentile employee and received back from him Saturday at sunset, the whole staff, including the Grossingers, working for him during this period, on the principle that having to work for someone else on the Sabbath is sanctioned. Grossing-er’s has its own shochet for poultry. On the Sabbath, writing paper is taken out of the lobby, and neat little signs appear asking one not to smoke in public.
While I was there, about fifteen persons gathered daily for full Orthodox morning and evening services in the writing alcove. They were led by the staff rabbi, Harry Z. Stone, a remote relative of the Grossingers, who confessed to me that this was his most trying period of the year, since the congregants were used to their own procedures and kept complaining that the ritual was too fast or too slow or incorrectly pronounced. The rest of the year, services when desired are conducted in the downstairs study, a minyan occasionally being gathered by press-ganging members of the staff.
Rabbi Stone also prepares descriptions of the various Jewish holidays, which are printed on the inside cover of the menus; these take the place of a regular feature entitled “Great Moments at Grossinger’s,” which records such occasions as the setting of a record on the golf course, or Eddie Fisher’s discovery by Eddie Cantor. The rabbi’s handling of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur material was straightforward and dignified. The day (before Yom Kippur the Grossinger Tattler came out in a single sheet that announced the details of the observance. “This evening the beautifully stirring and traditional ‘Kol Nidre’ prayer will be chanted by Cantor Leibele Waldman, one of America’s foremost Cantors, and the internationally-renowned Sam Sterner Choir, in the Grossinger Playhouse.” Rabbi Stone has also prepared an Oneg Shabbat Songster, a booklet carrying in English transliteration traditional Hebrew and Yiddish melodies like “Yerushalaim” and “Afn Pripechok”—this latter, according to the ralhbi, always produces tears. Almost all of the written material works in a good word for Israel.
Grossinger’s on Yom Kippur night was even more festive than on its eve. After the blowing of the shofar, snacks and liquor were served in a room adjoining the auditorium that is normally used as the bar. Then came “breakfast” in the dining room, followed, as soon as the tables were cleared and the cutlery and dishes changed, by an elaborate meat meal. The night club show, the beginning of which almost overlapped dinner, was an especially big one, since it came both on a Saturday night and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, but it did not vary in content from the routine of the previous week. There was a young man on roller skates hurling a young woman, similarly shod, in a frighteningly swift circle; a big, handsome baritone, who had been one of the leads in one of the companies of Oklahoma!; and Henny Youngman, who for perhaps an hour delivered a staccato series of jokes, many of them poking fun at the audience. The acts were very long and stretched out beyond normal interest. (A comic is on every bill. One night a tenor, the only performer—whose repertoire included Italian arias, a burlesque of various cantors’ styles ending with the blowing of a shofar, and announcements of how many records had been sold of one of his songs and how much money he had raised for Israel—paused regularly to tell jokes. He explained to me later that he was paid more for adding comedy. Mrs. Berle attended every evening, occasionally jotting down notes. “That must be good,” one comic remarked after a comment that had got prolonged laughter. “Mama Berle is writing.”)
After the conclusion of the regular show, one of the choir boys was thrust onto the stage precipitously by his mother with the aid of the master of ceremonies, who seemed to be in league with her. The orchestra leader was obviously taken by surprise. The boy sang “La Donna è Mobile” in a tinny, strained voice, his mother loudly lamenting that he hadn’t brought with him the music of “My Yiddishe Mama” for the pianist. When he finished, the various boxing celebrities in the room were introduced—Joe Louis, Barney Ross, Lou Ambers, all former champions, and Al Weill, manager of Marciano, present heavyweight champion; Marciano, in training for his fight with La Starza and already in bed at his airport training camp, was also announced as being there. Barney Ross at the mike tried to persuade the long table of sportswriters to rise and get a hand, but they doggedly remained seated. Al Weill exchanged a few financial pleasantries with Joe Louis, suggesting in the course of them that Grossinger’s ought to name a cottage after Louis. Ross then auctioned off two thirty-dollar ringside seats, donated by Weill, for the Marciano-La Starza fight the following Thursday, for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund; he got $425.
Sunday, there was an air of disintegration about the place. Marciano’s camp was breaking up. The guests who had come on Rosh Hashanah eve, some ten days before, left almost in a body the morning after Yom Kippur, their obeisance done. All day long loaded cars descended past the gatehouse. The great summer season had ended; the fall and winter activities had yet to start; there were few registrants that day.
It is easy to meet and talk to any of the Grossingers, except Harry, who spends several days each week in New York buying food and the rest of the time in endless building projects. While I was there, sewers were being laid for the new Ritz extension, a stone front was being built for it, a house was going up for the family of the Grossinger daughter, and the old toboggan slide was being torn down, with Harry shuttling from one job to the other. He also toured the grounds with architects trying to decide on a suitable spot for the new indoor swimming pool. The first sight I had of him was at the beginning of Yom Kippur services, when he auctioned off the privilege of opening the curtains in front of the Ark; the only other time I saw him was on Yom Kippur when he dashed into Marciano’s training hangar to pose for a picture with him and Joe Louis. A short man, he has thinning white hair, wears glasses, and seems alert and vigorous.
Paul was the first Grossinger I met. “You see,” he told me, explaining Grossinger’s air of permanence, “whenever we decide that we need something for the hotel we get it regardless of cost. Like the food, everything is top quality, literally.” A cherubic man, looking younger than his thirty-eight years, he speaks slowly and deliberately, pausing at great length sometimes before giving an answer. He smiles rarely, and his face is fixed in a rather stern expression. He is married and lives with his second wife and three children, the oldest born to his first wife, in a solid, conventional, two-story clap board and stone house his father built for him on the property. He has a degree in hotel management from Cornell and is in charge of the Grossinger-Pancoast in Miami in the winter. During our talk, he often referred with confident familiarity to various gossip columnists.
“Maybe our most important long-term project,” he said, after discussing Grossinger’s development, “in which Blackstone is very interested, is raising the dignity not only of our place but of the whole area. We don’t like the names ‘Catskills’ and ‘Borsht Circuit’ and we avoid them in connection with us. We want the other hotels to cut down all their signs and concentrate on just one or two. It doesn’t bring them any business, and it hurts the appearance of the industry. When people are driving up here, they already know where they are going.” I had noticed on the way up that Grossinger’s had only one sign about halfway between New York and the hotel, a big plain one with a clock on it and the slogan “Grossinger’s Has Everything” spelled by the smoke issuing from the tail of a plane. Elsewhere on the road, however, were tremendous bulletin boards with dozens of hotels listed in small print; many establishments, including the Concord, had a great many big, individual signs. “It’s very important to us to raise the level of the resort area. Jewish people don’t have enough dignity, and this kind of thing hurts them.” I had already learned that comedians performing at Grossinger’s are enjoined to clean up their material; if they lapse, they are not engaged again. The man in charge of the discussion group was allowed to conduct a forum on the Kinsey report for adults only, behind closed doors.
I asked Paul whether Grossinger’s had felt any competition from the Concord. “Actually, they’ve helped us, I think,” he said. “Their growth has proved the need for what we offer. I played golf with their manager the other week, and found out that we both had capacity crowds over Labor Day. Competition is good; it makes people aware of everybody and boosts attendance. The Concord really attracts another crowd. It doesn’t have the traditions or the warmth of our place.” One Grossinger’s staff member described the difference between the two establishments for me in this way: “There the guests would never think of sitting on the rug in the lobby; here, you’ll often see groups relaxing this way in the winter. The Concord is Miami transplanted.” I was told that when the Concord built its main lobby it used white marble for walls and floors; after a while the marble was covered with pine panelling like that at Grossinger’s.
“Let me tell you one thing,” Paul said before I left, “there’s a lot of talk that in order to meet our guests’ needs we’ll some day abandon the dietary laws. That’s not so. In fact the family feels so strongly about this we haven’t even had to have a talk on the matter. Our success was built on kashrut, and we cannot conceive of ever giving it up, or in any way relaxing its strict observance.”
In common with certain other Catskill resorts, Grossinger’s enjoys a high reputation as an ideal place to look for a mate. The creators of Wish You Were Here, the Broadway musical immortalizing the driving impatience of summer romance, visited Grossinger’s to absorb atmosphere, although the mating procedure here is far more formal and elaborate than that practiced in an adult summer camp. About fifty marriages a year, it is estimated authoritatively, result from contacts made at Grossinger’s; actually, the Grossinger expert on such matters, Mrs. Karla Grossinger, believes the number may be much higher; sometimes, after all, the newlyweds are too wrapped up in their new state to bother about letting Grossinger’s know. If they do notify Grossinger’s, the management sends them a gift.
“The negotiations,” I have been told by a woman friend who was exposed to the procedure a number of years ago when single and eighteen, “are rather involved, but the ritual is pretty fixed. I came up with my mother. It wasn’t long before she was being approached by the fathers or mothers of eligible bachelors, and even by the bachelors themselves. The bachelors were usually dentists or doctors in their thirties, shy, awkward men, who had spent so much time studying that they couldn’t manage these things themselves, or, if they tried, lacked grace. Inquiries, sometimes subtle, sometimes grossly blunt, were made to my mother about my eligibility, my attainments, my expectations, and the like. My impression was that the older the bachelor, the younger the woman he wanted. Another impression is that all of them were bald.”
Another young woman I talked with, in her thirties and unmarried, was bitter about the callous and crass questions that men put to her directly. The staff doctor described to me the panic of the young women when they get sick lest they lose a minute of their precious (and expensive) exposure to the darts of the Grossinger cupid.
Mrs. Karla Grossinger, who is the widow of a first cousin of Jennie, is officially designated as hostess. As such she makes available various parlor games, like Scrabble, which was especially popular the week I was there, and opens the bookcase behind her desk in the main lobby for anyone who asks her. A short, vivacious, very pretty woman in her forties, with a daughter at Brandeis, she originally came to Grossinger’s after Jennie met her in a Hollywood fashion establishment where she was working as hostess and designer under the name of Madame Sauvonier, an adaptation of her maiden name. She was born and educated in Vienna and came to this country to study philosophy at Northwestern; she reads highbrow magazines and keeps a book of quotations from her readings that includes selections, in the original language, from Goethe, Mann, Proust, and Shaw. She also knows Polish. She wears her long, dark blond hair in a plaited crown on top of her head, and bustles around the grounds with great energy, greeting everyone with a loud, wonderfully accented “Allo, allo.” Her major work is considered by many to be as matchmaker, and I talked with her about this one morning.
“ You know,” she said to me at once, “a good deal of my work must be confidential. You have no idea how much and in what way I’m confided in by women. The men take care of themselves, but the women need someone to be their friend, to talk for them. I get a good idea about the people just from looking at them. Sometimes I stop to talk. I know which men are available, sometimes even the ones who are here under false pretenses, the married ones who try to pass as single. Then I just make introductions. These things are never very organized or very formal. No one comes to me to say I want a man so many and so many years old, looking so and so, with so much and so much money. In fact, maybe all that happens is a guest meets some friends, usually several, who will call him or her in the city. But often, because the place is so big, a widower, a good shy man, will never get to know a widow with whom he might hit it off perfectly. They don’t sit at the same table, they don’t go to the same activities. My job is to find them out, introduce them, and leave them alone.” Lou Goldstein, the Director of Daytime Activities, had previously told me that mixed ping-pong doubles or volley-ball games between the sexes are designed specifically to throw the men and women together, or even just the women, since a pair of women are supposed to operate better than a lone one.
“There are lots of men, older ones, bachelors, widowers,” Karla said, “who come here year after year and think they are looking for wives. I know them well. This woman has this wrong with her, that one that. They kid themselves; they don’t want marriage. The younger folk hardly need me at all, but they are pleased when I see someone they missed and introduce them. The engagement that took place this week is interesting. The girl was up for several weeks, going from one young man to another. Then last Saturday this young man came here and I thought, ah, this one is it, and I told the girl. She was skeptical, and before I got a chance to introduce them, they met by themselves at volley ball, and less than a week later, their families announced the engagement.” Mothers will occasionally leave their daughters in Karla’s hands after confiding their hopes to her, and return home.
Matchmaking is not confined to Karla. In fact, it is one of the principal, if least organized, activities at Grossinger’s. Everyone was appraising and pairing off eligible persons all week. No more than a half hour after the blond young lady who sat alone on Yom Kippur spoke of her work in behalf of Hadassah, impressing the morning patio audience, her general background and unmarried state were widely known, and various arrangements were being made for her.
One gets the sense, after a few days at Grossinger’s, of dwelling in a place of utter tranquillity and fulfillment, where every tenuous inclination is at once luxuriously catered to. Waitresses anticipate whims, watch for the place where the eye pauses on the menu, bring extra servings and unordered dishes, and produce unlisted and unusual items to satisfy any wish (except those violating kashrut; one sportswriter mumbled all week about not getting butter with his steak). Thick steaks or thick lamb chops, or both, in any quantity, may be had nightly. A crew df men carries new mattresses through the halls for guests who complain of their present ones. Everything pours from an enormous horn of superabundant plenty: two lobbies; two newspapers which keep reporting the presence of dozens of world celebrities; two night clubs with two masters of ceremonies and two dance orchestras; soon there will be two swimming pools. It was said that after the indoor swimming pool the Grossingers would put up a year-round, air-conditioned, indoor mountain.
Some guests started leaving on Tuesday, but were unable to tear themselves away till Friday. The management boasted that no person who joined the staff ever left it, and an old story is about the answer a habitually drunken laborer gave Harry Grossinger when told he was fired: “Where would I go?” he is said to have replied, suddenly sobered. “This is my home.” He stayed at Grossinger’s till his death. A bearded artist who painted sentimental scenes of traditional Jewish life had come for one day to display his wares; many weeks later he was still living at Grossinger’s, setting up his paintings, priced at $10 each, every night in the corridor outside the night club.
Members of the staff carry themselves with a satisfied, procrastinating slowness which suggests that everything you could ever ask for will be taken care of sooner or later. They had the lethargy of persons with eternal tenure. All whom I met, with one exception, were unmarried. A sports-writer expressed disgust at the thick-skinned boorishness of some staff members who hovered about the Marciano camp, absorbing glory. “They talk and behave,” he said “as though they’d never set foot outside the place. You can’t even insult them.” I was told that one or two employees never did leave the grounds, even for vacation, except for a movie or a plate of bacon in Liberty; one brash, self-confident, and talented young man is supposed to have turned down radio and television offers in order to remain at Grossinger’s; his one or two terrified visits to New York in recent years were described with sympathetic amusement. He was rumored to have saved up a fortune by this time and has been talking about going into the hotel business himself. Many of the staff had come as guests and simply lingered, including those, like the dentist who played after-dinner piano music in the lobby, who had had occupations of some substance in the outside world. A young man formerly on the staff, who managed to free himself after several months to return to New York, said to me, “I just had to get away from that feeling of eternal vacation.” He has a standing invitation to return any time.
Genially presiding over this retreat, perhaps not quite like Circe but certainly like Shaw’s cordial, amiable, and ingratiatingly solicitous host in the dream sequence of Man and Superman, is Mrs. Jennie Grossinger, who, all agree, has given the place its special tone. Jennie—everyone in authority is referred to by his first name except Blackstone—has the manner of a great hostess: it was obvious the first moment I saw her moving through the dining room and the lobbies, pausing at tables to greet guests with friendly warmth and laughter. Although she addressed several hundred of us on Yom Kippur in the Playhouse, she was able to project the impression that she saw each of us as a special guest of the Grossinger family, and that it was her pleasure to have us visit their private establishment. (Karla explained this quality by the fact that Jennie’s family came of a line of Polish landowners.) The staff added to this impression by speaking of themselves as though they were members of an idyllically content feudal retinue. Attempts to unionize them have failed dismally. They eat the same food and use the same recreational facilities as guests and regard Jennie with genuine affection and devotion; they are like jesters and tutors and physicians surrounding a benevolent baroness. The teachers who taught Jennie voice, art, and languages became, and some remained, regular members of the staff; the rabbi was originally her private chaplain and cultural tutor. Before he entered the service, her son-in-law had been the house doctor.
In the same feudal tradition of magnificence Jennie distributes her largesse broadly (letters from all over the world come in regularly claiming relationship with the family), although lately she has allowed herself to be restrained by her advisors. Any Jewish organization can still get permission to offer an off-season mid-week holiday at Grossinger’s as a raffle prize, but the hotel will no longer run ads in any and every Jewish periodical. Grossinger’s facilities are available to Jewish organizations for meetings and conventions, and while I was there the local Hadassah held a regular meeting in the dining room. The hospital in Liberty has named a clinic after the Grossingers in acknowledgment of the support the family has given it. The Grossingers shrug this particular honor away: “We just want to make sure our guests have every possible medical facility in case of emergency,” Paul said.
I spent an afternoon with Jennie. A blond, trim-figured woman, she looks much younger than her late fifties, especially from a distance. We sat in her pleasant little living room in Joy Cottage, of which she occupies one wing; her daughter’s family lives in the other. The windows of the room were bordered with flowered drapes; the floor was covered wall to wall with a shaggy green carpet; a spinet, an antique writing table, three chairs, and a few tables made up the rest of the furniture. Three corners of the room had floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I caught glimpses of a Jewish history, several laymen’s books on psychiatry, Kipling’s stories, and a book called The Pekinese. A Pekinese snored deeply throughout our conversation, lying on a hassock next to her chair. She had a television set in her bedroom, on which she liked to watch Barry Gray.
Jennie spoke with lively enthusiasm on every subject we touched, asking exacting questions on matters that puzzled her. I was impressed, captivated possibly, by a graciousness that approached elegance, and by an embracing, glowing femininity that covered over and made unimportant her obviously sharp business sense. Her manner was a mixture of the humble and confident; she spoke of her friendship with Eddie Cantor a little uncertainly, as though not wanting to seem to be trying to impress me. When she hit on something that excited her, a subject or a way of expression, the words rushed together in an attractive tumble. She has a barely perceptible lisp and punctuates her sentences with a pleasant, mild laughter.
“I belong to so many Jewish organizations,” she said, “I hardly remember the names of all. Someone told me there’s a group that’s against Zionism and Israel. Judaism something in the title. That’s not the people who sponsor COMMENTARY, is it? No? I thought it was different. I’m a member of the Committee, too, I think. Any Jew who is against Zionism, I think, is against himself. Don’t you think so? We give a lot of money to Israel. A library was built at the Chaim Weizmann Institute in honor of my parents by friends of ours. That made me very proud. You know Weizmann was an old guest here.”
She got up to show me an autographed photograph of Weizmann that hung on the wall near an unautographed picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A dramatic portrait of Toscanini (also unautographed) hung over the writing desk, and also on the wall was a great hammered brass plaque.
“I’m planning a trip to Israel now. You know, I really don’t have enough time to do the things I like. I’ve taken voice and diction lessons, and studied French and Spanish. This last summer I read Hamlet and Julius Caesar with Dr. Grumette of Brooklyn College. We also read Jones’s psychoanalytic study of Hamlet. I worked very hard and enjoyed Shakespeare very much, but I’m not sure I liked the kind of thing Jones was doing. I’m reading now a history of the Jews which I’ve been working at a long time, always looking up words in the dictionary. It’s very exciting as things begin to fit. In a history of Rome I read about the destruction of the Temple, and everything came together that I had heard for years. I’m always trying to give our guests here what I think they’ll like on vacation. I once took up art on a vacation and liked it very much, and art instruction here, which I put in, has been very successful.” (Jon Gnagy, the television artist, was her “discovery.”)
“Most of my guests have little idea of my interests and activities. I’m very grateful to them for their coming back year after year. I recognize them, I greet them, I ask about their families. They are all good people, and I like them. But I keep my business and social life separate. Their values are usually not my values. I love learning and art, perhaps because I went to school such a short time. I wish I could read every book I ever see, and learn to write short stories.”
I asked her how it was Grossinger’s had never introduced the kind of cultural activity prevalent at Tamiment or at the Tarleton.
“Do you think there would be enough people interested? Even if only some would, it would be a good idea. Who would come, for instance? Who might lecture? I wish I had the energy these days to push an idea like that. I’d like to have important American writers and intellectuals here, but you see my husband is not interested in such things. He builds, and he buys food, and, of course, that’s very important.”
She asked me to describe the kind of person who might attend a summer “institute” but otherwise was not likely to come to Grossinger’s, and I found myself talking of college intellectuals and giving an account of Lionel Trilling. She listened closely.
“Oh, I would love to have Professor Trilling here,” she exclaimed when I finished. “Do you think,” she asked slowly, “you could bring him up as my guest some weekend?”
Jennie had concluded her Yom Kippur address with a little invitation. “I love the hotel business and I love all of you people,” she had said. “My only wish is that when I go to heaven, God will make me a hotelkeeper there. And there, I assure you, you’ll never have trouble with reservations.” A mild familial chuckling, led by Jennie herself, spread through the hall.
At that, it’s not likely that a heavenly Grossinger’s would have to introduce many new features, at least no material improvements. If, as is thought by some, entrance to heaven is gained by a sound and successful life in this world, then Grossinger’s would seem actually to offer a preview of Gan Eden to those who have proved they deserve it by having earned their way in.