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Family for All Seasons

There is a stained glass window in the entryway of Congregation Tifereth Yakov with the words, “To Life From Ashes.” Tifereth Yakov was founded by Holocaust survivors. The shul is part of The Four Seasons Lodge, a cooperatively run summer bungalow colony in Ellenville, New York. Congregants — almost all from Austria, Germany, Hungary and Poland — have, since 1980, held holiday and Shabbat services there. While The Four Seasons is loudly and proudly Jewish, cooperators define what that means for themselves. But everyone agrees: The Lodge is a place where survivors can relive the horrors they experienced at Nazi hands and, at the same time, savor their aliveness.

And savor they do. Every night but Friday there are games of canasta, mahjong and poker in the main lodge. “They’re playing for money so there are arguments with voices raised,” laughs Ruth Bieber, the daughter of a lodger and frequent visitor to The Four Seasons, but by the time cake and coffee are served, flared tempers are calmed.

At the height of its existence, nearly 100 couples vacationed at the Lodge. Today, all 52 bungalows and eight apartments are occupied, but declining health and death have taken their toll on the original group. Some of the bungalows have been rented by their owners, with tenants drawn largely from New York’s survivor community Whether hidden children or camp survivors, the Holocaust is the common denominator that links most of the residents to one another. Some first met in Europe, in their hometowns or in concentration camp. Others met in the U.S., but virtually all have been friends for decades.

Men are present at The Four Seasons too, but it is the women talking together that is most striking. “Life is tradition,” adds Helen [who asked that her last name not be used] from the sidelines. “We’ve developed a Jewish life here. We also grew, as people.” Like other residents, she repeats the word “family” again and again.

Carola Greenspan began coming to the Catskills nearly 60 years ago and calls the area her second home. She initially came as part of a pack: 15 families, all survivors living in Manhattan, drawn upstate for fresh air, camaraderie, and a safe place for their children to play. Many of that first group are now at The Four Seasons.

Carola’s recollections of the Holocaust are vivid and raw, with astounding power and immediacy. “I was just a teenager,” she says. “I was holding a six-year-old boy with meningitis in my arms. A soldier approached and the kid started to scream. The German took the boy from me, then threw him on a truck, like garbage. It’s so difficult to believe, the atrocities. Our survival was miraculous. Here, at The Four Seasons, we all have the same background. Have all been through such things, such inhumanity. Most of us lost our entire families. So this is it. This is our family.”

A new film on the Four Season Lodge is forthcoming; for more information go to www.fourseasonsmovie.org.