I Played the Borscht Belt

“Star-studded live entertainment, exciting children’s day camp, teen and singles’ programs and daily Israeli dancing are only some of the constant activities featured!”

When I was about 5 yrs-old, my parents dragged me kicking and screaming to the Nevele Grand Resort in the Catskills. I think it was the poor man’s Grossinger’s but whatever it was, I HATED it. It couldn’t have been during the summer because by then, I already had spent 1.5 summers away at sleep away camp (another story altogether) and in the posed pictures from the trip, I’m rather fetching in red tights and a wool dress.

During the day I would get dumped at some ridiculous activity while my parents clearly did something similar to what is illustrated in the above photos. As I recall, in an act of defiance, I took out my frustrations on a paint-your-own plaster frog doing a rather half-hearted glazing job. This was the precursor to me dropping out of Girl Scouts for having to sew badges on a sash and getting kicked out of Home Ec for stealing samples of Noxema from the supply cabinet instead of caramelizing sugar in a double-boiler.

What I lacked in detail orientation, I made up for in the ability to sing. Perhaps it was because my father was an actual PAID night club singer (he and my mother met at a New Hampshire resort where he was the featured act and she was a rather come-hither receptionist) but at that age and well into my late teens, I was very confident performing. I suppose that it was this confidence that propelled me to go from table-to-table in the resort dining room like a mariachi band without the mustache and sombrero. Even though people weren’t slipping dollar bills down my dress to leave them the hell alone while they enjoyed their boiled beef flanken, I’m certain they were silently glancing at my parents with pity for having such an odd child. My infamy culminated in a rather demure rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at the Friday night talent show.

At summer camp, I was always the one entrusted with the showstopping number of every musical. I didn’t have the leading-lady looks (one of the many factors leading to my years of self-esteem issues) but I had the powerhouse set of lungs that could belt out everything from “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy to “Somwehere” from West Side Story. I brought tears to the eyes of the audience with my performance of “Climb Every Mountain” at ten (I swear!) and did a great Ben Vereen in the opening number of Pippin. Now, I have nightmares that I’ve forgotten the lyrics to songs I’ve sung forever or I can’t find my costume.

I still have a pretty awesome voice. My medley of “Blackbird,” “Dream A Little Dream,” and “Where Is Love?” has gotten rave reviews over the years from my daughter. My sister and I are like the Jewish version of Wilson Phillips in our ability to harmonize to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Somehow, though, my confidence has jumped to other things but I really do hope to one day be able to again hit that one high note in “Climb Every Mountain” and to find the perfect person to sing “One Hand, One Heart” with at a karaoke bar.



  1. Dan

    I think I may be that person, Gaylie. If we, and everyone around us, are drunk enough to understand my vocal stylings. (I don't confine myself to the conventional notions of pitch or being "on-key." That's too confining for me.)So you and your sister were "Willowitz Philberg?" And thank you for clearing up where my missing Noxema went, all those years ago…..

  2. I like that the dance happening on the cover of that record is basically what would become this move.

  3. My favorite line: "My sister and I are like the Jewish version of Wilson Phillips in our ability to harmonize to Crosby, Stills and Nash."This was written with such great description, I have a crystal clear, vivid picture of the young Gayle Saks {Rodriguez), and I wish she was MY friend at summer camp. Love.

  4. I also love that y'all were the Jewish WIlson Phillips. I'm still a little bummed that Patrick Swayze never showed up though.

  5. I can sing, though I don't do karaoke. I've always looked for the right song, the right place, the right key, but to no avail. If we meet in person and can actually find One Hand, One Heart in a karaoke bar, it's on like Donkey Kong.

  6. KINARD–who ARE you???? If you've never heard Ricki Lee Jones and Joe Jackson doing One Hand, One Heart, you MUST listen. I'm not sure who you are, but we can practice on skype!

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