There was a time when the Poconos were not Jewish friendly. Today, there are camps and cabins, hotels and conference centers frequented by Jewish families. While the Poconos resorts are famous for their heart-shaped tubs, some now even offer the extra treat of a kosher meal.
Driving fewer than two hours brings vacationers from New York City, Monsey, northern New Jersey or Philly to a mountain haven. The Lehigh Valley is even closer. The Poconos have had a major boom in religious vacationers. This poor, originally semi-rural, vast area of Pennsylvania originally burgeoned in the ‘70s. Developers built residential communities, where Jewish families could be found buying summer houses.
In the summertime, according to the rabbis who call the Poconos home, the camps are “a dime a dozen” and there are a lot more kosher amenities. Joshua Chaitovsky of Bergenfield opened Como Pizza in Lake Como 14 years ago. The food at Como’s is strictly kosher, cholov Yisroel, pas Yisroel and kemach yoshon.
Chaitovsky operates the business from mid-June through August, with 25-30 camps nearby, including Morasha, Lavi, Nesher, Nearim, Ranenu, Seneca Lake and Moshava. Last year, “seeing they were not tapping into the full market,” he opened Stop, Shop and Roll, selling pareve sushi. With no other sushi within an hour and a half drive, he attracts kosher as well as non-kosher campers from the dense array of summer camps. He noted that “people also come from Scranton.” His advice is to avoid long lines by pre-ordering for visiting day at [email protected]
This summer, Chaitovsky is opening Creamton Coffee House, where there will be cholov Yisroel options. Creamton’s will serve blended drinks, smoothies and lattes. Near his shops, Jericho Dairy Bar serves kosher ice cream and toppings, along with non-kosher foods. The proprietor of this family-run shop, Fay Woodmansee, is a lifetime local resident who started the business 28 years ago to accommodate the camps. Asked how long they have had kosher certification, she boasts, “for 28 years.” While she opens a few weeks early for the locals, employing high school and college students, she stated that “90 percent of business is from the camps.”
Woodmansee noted that “the population of Lake Como shoots from 250 people to 10-15,000” in the camps she serves “within three-four days, when the bulk of the kids come at the end of June.” There are no kosher hotels in her area; many visitors to the camps stay in hotels an hour away in Scranton.
Rabbi Mendel Bendet and his wife, Shterni, first came to the Poconos in 2003. Chabad shluchim, they reach out to all Jews. They see Jewish vacationers in every season. The travelers enjoy the skiing and snow tubing in winter, hiking, camping and watersports in the summer. With amusement parks, an animal park/zoo, racing cars, zip lines, and 30 golf courses, adults and children have ample entertainment to choose from. The indoor water parks are popular all year round, as well as the outlet malls and antique shopping.
While the camps are isolated and self-sufficient, the Poconos encompass massive areas that are much more isolated than the Catskills, but “a beautiful, beautiful place and very affordable,” according to Rabbi Raices. Raices, who came to the Poconos a few years ago to assist Rabbi Bendet, noted that the state parks offer rustic housing. The cost is $75.00 a night for three bedrooms. Bring your own linens and food.
Seeking a more luxurious vacation? The Poconos can accommodate. Hotels and conference centers have well-appointed rooms ranging in price from the affordable to the luxurious. While the children are in camp, try a Sunday through Thursday retreat for two at East Shore Lodging.
With different levels of observance come various needs. The Poconos meet them all. There are Conservative and Reform congregations, and supermarkets carrying a larger-than-ever collection of raw kosher foods. Abe’s Kosher Delicatessen in Scranton is the only deli left from there to New York. Offering kosher products in a kosher-style setting, they have separate ovens and dishes. While meat and milk are not mixed, there is no kosher supervision.
Scranton has seen an influx of Jewish families. There are three Orthodox minyanim, including Chabad, yeshivish and Modern Orthodox congregations. Scranton also has a mikvah and a kosher supermarket, Yeshiva Co-op.
What have you got to lose? Try a vacation in the Poconos this summer, be it as public or private as you like. Spend some leisure time with fun-filled activities or quiet relaxation in a serene setting. Get more information by clicking on 800poconos.com or poconojrc.org. You will even find information there about a monthly kosher dinner at Café Yehudi of the Jewish Resource Center in Stroudsburg.
Still not convinced? It’s close enough. Set the GPS and start out with a day trip. You’ll be back. Guaranteed.
By Sharon Mark Cohen