The last real shabbos nachamu I spent roaming between Woodbourne and Kiamesha Lanes was years ago, I must have been about 22 or 23, and the kids at risk yeshiva rebel revolution was at its tail end. Not that there aren’t yeshiva rebels anymore, but nowadays yeshiva rebels are way younger and more advanced in their rebellious ways, the Rabbis thinking they were brilliant banned different “dangerous” spots for young yeshiva guys and girls because they didn’t want them to hang out and the response was private parties with drugs and sex are way better than trying to get Rifky’s eye at Woodbourne Pizza.
I remember the days when kids would literally drive up to Woodbourne just to hang out on Saturday night, these were the days before I was a writer, and before I took a keen interest in the ridiculous scene that happened in Woodbourne, but still as a modern orthodox kid it seemed completely insane and growing up on the upper west side I never got to see girls in skirts talking about the spies from their school catching them “hanging out”.
For those of you who don’t know, Woodbourne is a small town in upstate NY, it is near Catskill park and the Jews call this the country, the Catskills, or the mountains – some people say that the more modern you are the more likely you are to call this “upstate” either way this area swells in the summer with ultra orthodox vacationers from the NY metro area. In recent years it has gone mostly Charedi, but when I was a kid you could still find a bungalow without a large wall blocking the view of the pool that had mixed swimming, I hear that even Vacation Village which prided themselves on not having separate swimming has in recent years placed certain times for separate swimming.
Woodbourne is one street of restaurants, if you want to call greasy fast food joints that. There is a bakery, two kosher pizza stores, an arcade, a store selling stockings, a fruit store and some other ramshackle summer places which all look like they survived Hurricane Katrina.
Frummies love Woodbourne and for some reason they flock there, visiting day is a zoo, but nothing compares to what went on during the mid 90s on Saturday night of shabbos nachamu. It’s not even such a big deal, but for me at the time it was a big deal. For most it was a big deal because they were sneaking away from their frum homes to do things like talk to girls, listen to metallica and smoke underneath the bridge over the neversink. It was also a time to be away from parents and Rabbis and all the other things that yeshivish families don’t allow you to do, like wear jeans.
The first time I ever saw Woodbourne in all of its glory was when I was 16, it was 1998 and the orthodox rabbinate had just figured out that yeshiva kids also liked sex and drugs, and they were scurrying like mad to figure out what to do – they still haven’t figured it out, but those kids at risk programs sure made a killing and Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz has a job because of it. My father drove my friend Jerry and I to Woodbourne while he paroused the seforim store, I think we were the only kids there with a parent who thought it was a good thing.
It was mobbed, these were the days of JNCO jeans, airwalks and girls with those tight black slinky skirts that you could see their underwear lines through. The first thing I distinctly remember was that my friend and I were the only ones not wearing velvet yarmulkes, and the only ones wearing shorts, we were also not smoking and we didn’t have long bangs tucked underneath our flat black yarmulkes that were pinned down with two bobby pins, we were completely out of place.
Clusters of yeshiva rebels stood around, everyone smoked and for every girl there was at least 5 guys, this was in the days before the shidduch crisis. This was in the days when wide legs and chain wallets were cool and girls would wear short sleeves and then change before they got home – it was pretty insane.
The Woodbourne scene suffered a slow death, as stated before it was mostly as a result of awareness pushed forth by the Rabbis and concerned parents that voiced their concerns over the dangers their children were coming in contact with – it was really a stupid thing to do because instead of hanging out in Jewish pizza stores they now just made parties and went to bars – but you know how stupid frummies can be when they set their mind to something.
When I was 23 I was hanging out in Woodbourne and met some friends, we then did the traditional back and forth between Woodbourne and Kiamesha Lanes trying to see if we could pick up chicks even though the types of people that hang out in these places usually have nothing to say unless you want to play Jewish Geography or smoke and talk about metallica. How the hell did Metallica become that yeshiva rebel band anyway?
Someone emailed me and asked me to talk about the concerts at Monticello Raceway. Unless you paid me to go to some yeshivish concert with prepubescent alter boy types singing tehillim there is no way I would know what went on there. The only concert I ever attended in the Catskills was Phil Lesh and Trey.
Like Ave J, Playboy Billiards and Café Wah – Woodbourne is dead and completely uninteresting to me nowadays, unless if involves weeknight free food at Dougies.