Images by Rani Stevens Goodman, courtesy of the author.

My Mother, The Summer, The Catskills, and Me

“Hey there—are you related to Rani who took the Concord photos?”

The message appeared last summer from The Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project. A slight shake ran through me, the same way it always does when someone asks about Rani Stevens Goodman, my mom, since she passed away in September 2021. The “Concord photos” were images she took in the 1970s at the famed Concord Hotel in the Catskill Mountains, also known as the Borscht Belt. This part of New York became a summer and winter getaway for Jews of all stripes, especially in times when many hotels or resorts were “restricted” and didn’t allow Jews. 

I got the chance to interview my mother about her photos in 2015 for The Forward, these images she captured when she accidentally attended a singles’ weekend at the hotel–ever a Mountain Rat, she went up to the Catskills every weekend and had her usual lounge chair at the Concord. This time, though, she noticed it was very crowded. “That weekend I was — how would you say — approached more often than usual,” she laughed. But in between being approached, she snapped several photos; she always had her camera with her. I’ve loved these pictures since I first found them at our house when I was a teenager, this documentation of a very specific moment in time: bathing suits and heels and gold jewelry, chai necklaces resting in thick swaths of chest hair. When the interview was published on The Forward, I remember many messages and comments relaying the delight in seeing them.

I hadn’t received any in a few years, since well before my mother’s passing. But last summer, when the call came, I responded: yes, that was my mom. The Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project, I learned, was an organization started by photographer Marisa Scheinfeld to “preserve the Borscht Belt’s history & legacy,” and “create a historic marker trail” at relevant Catskills landmarks to ensure the Jewish contributions to culture and design made there weren’t forgotten. Scheinfeld herself had spent many years documenting the once grand and now abandoned hotels like Grossinger’s and the Concord, those that have sadly fallen to neglect and disrepair. She didn’t want to see any more of the area’s story vanish. 

They wanted to use my mom’s photos for the historical marker dedication. A small smile crept across my face. 

My mother loved the Catskills. Loved. She was filled with stories of her time spent both working and playing “in the mountains,” as people would say, whether she was at a waterfall in Parksville, accidentally at the aforementioned singles’ weekend, or working at the Paramount Hotel and living in staff housing for the summer. Like many people, it was part of her life for decades, from the time she was a little girl to when she left New York for Florida in the 1970s. 

So I decided to share my mom’s work with Marisa, to honor my mother’s life in a way she herself would have adored. 

I learned that this summer there would be a cocktail party at what would have been the fourth hole of the Concord’s golf course, on the property of the new Resorts World Catskills. I felt my mother’s blood pumping through me. “Come Friday afternoon at four o’clock, it was like ‘Okay, Stevens is off to the woods!’” she told me during our interview. “The area was country with trees and there were very good memories I had up there so I just wanted to make more of them.” Hearing her words echo, I knew I had to go, and maybe while I was there I’d finally learn what it was like to be in her Catskills. 

We had gone only once as a family–my dad also spent a lot of time in the mountains, as a waiter at hotels like Brown’s and the Raleigh–but this was when I was in high school nearly 20 years ago. It was early spring then, kind of cold and wet. We drove around some of the towns and hamlets my parents frequented like Liberty, Monticello, Ellenville, Loch Sheldrake, and Mountain Dale. We ate roast pork on garlic bread. But being in their favorite summer destination just as winter was ending I don’t think was quite the same.


Come June 13, I’m on the train to Middletown, New York, where I then grab a car over Kiamesha Lake, the former site of the Concord. The sun is bright, roadways dotted with tall green trees, the sky cloudless, a blue only known to crayons. There is this gentle breeze, smooth green grass sloping over hills, Manhattan’s humidity now miles away. I sit outside and allow the sun to kiss my skin. Is this what it felt like for my mom at the pool? Was the warmth the same, the sun, the sky? “Yes,” I hear her whisper to me, then and even now. I am starting to understand. 

Later, the cocktail party begins and I’m wearing one of my mother’s ensembles from the 1970s, a two-piece pant set of black wool and metallic sequins. Her photographs are in the evening’s slideshow. As I try to snap shots of them in circulation, I hear gentle appreciative laughter or joyful comments from people behind me like “Oh, look at that!” I get to turn around and tell them, “Those are my mother’s pictures!” and they smile. Her images and her spirit get a new life tonight. And in her speech introducing the new historical marker, Marisa mentions her, too, as photographer Rani Stevens Goodman, that her daughter, the author Elyssa Maxx Goodman is here representing her. 

My mother never got to see me become an author. She passed before my book came out. I always knew she was a photographer, though, and my heart is full knowing I get to celebrate her tonight. Having a mojito on an empty stomach isn’t helping the fact that tears have sprung to my eyes. I am so proud to be your daughter, Rani, I want to say. And I’m so proud to be able to share the work you made in a place you loved with a project honoring it all. 

The sky changes colors–blue to purple and pink and orange and yellow and I get it. This sunset, it’s my mother’s sunset. The trees, her trees. The breeze, her breeze. I imagined her sitting outside having a cocktail, watching the night slowly arrive. She’s there with me, I know it. But I’m not surprised. She’d never miss a trip to the mountains. 

Images by Rani Stevens Goodman, courtesy of the author.

Borscht Belt Historical Markers will be having events marking historical sites throughout the summer. Check out their Instagram to learn more.