Chapter 21. Mountaindale, Sportsman's Paradise

There are places that are synonymous with certain sports. Wimbledon means tennis in June, Augusta means golf in August, the Kentucky Derby means horse racing in May and Mountaindale means deer hunting the last two weeks of November.

An eight year old from a rural area in upstate New York traveled with his family to visit with his cousins in Westchester County one Christmas holiday. He, who had never seen a menorah, saw lit menorahs in the windows of some of the houses on the block. The boy asked his father why the lights were on. His father told him that Jewish people celebrate different holidays than others do. The father asked his son, "For example, what holiday do I take off every year?" The boy replied, " The first day of hunting season!"

Hunters came up from the city at the end of November. Some came for a day, some came for a weekend, and those who had a three day vacation before Thanksgiving could come up for as long as nine days. After all, hunting was much more important than spending the Thanksgiving holiday at home with family.

Hunters came up in pairs or by the carload. Some organized hunting clubs and rented out the same bungalow colony or summer hotel year after year. Those who rented the same property every year posted signs claiming exclusive hunting rights to the property.

There were different ways to try and shoot deer. Some groups of hunters built tree platforms in sturdy trees near the edge of a field. They had several men go two miles away into the woods and make noise to drive the deer toward the platform. The deer emerged from the woods out into the field and were promptly shot by the men on the platform.

One man set up a salt lick at the back of his house near the woods. The deer came every morning at dawn to enjoy the treat. Then, on the first day of hunting season, the homeowner shot the unsuspecting deer as they came to enjoy the lick.

Out-of-town hunters brought money to the cold, sleepy town. They needed food, warm clothing, provisions and a restaurant to eat in. The hunters would come to the only open restaurant after dark because they could hunt only in the daytime and wouldn't waste precious daylight hours. The restaurant wasn't kosher, but it sold Hebrew National products along with beer.

Jewish people don't hunt their meat. Animals that have been shot are not kosher. Meat is kosher only if it is ritually slaughtered. While I was growing up there was a story about a merchant in town who wanted a deer head as a showpiece to hang on his wall. Being a Jew, he would not be able to use the meat from an animal that he shot. He only wanted the showpiece. One day he went hunting on Barsky's property to kill a deer. As he was crossing a field the hunter saw the silhouette of a large deer walking in the woods. The animal was near the edge of the tree line. As the deer reached the edge of the woods, the animal put its leg out first. When the hunter saw the large cloven hoof, he was convinced he had the trophy he was looking for. He aimed and fired his rifle. His joy quickly turned to disbelief as Barsky's cow fell dead.

I don't know whether the story is fact or fiction but I thought it was a tale that had to be told.