When Jews descended on the Catskills during summers in the middle of the 20th century, “they wanted to be sporty and American,” filmmaker Marsha Lee said, but when their British contemporaries gathered at the fabled Green Park hotel in Bournemouth, England, “they wanted to be queen.”
Lee was speaking after the screening of “The Green Park” on Monday night, Feb. 13, at Lefont Sandy Springs as part of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Lee, who married into the family that owned the kosher beachfront hotel from 1943 until it was sold and demolished in 1986, had the idea for the documentary and was one of its producers.
Ramah Darom sponsored the screening because of the parallels between the cultural role the Green Park and similar hotels played for British Jews then and the role Jewish retreat centers provide in America today, said Eliana Leader, the director of the Kaplan Mitchell Retreat Center at Ramah Darom.
The programs at Ramah, just as the vacations at the Green Park did, provide an opportunity for Jews to stop worrying about being in a minority group assimilating into society at large.
More than three decades after the Green Park closed because British Jews increasingly traveled abroad, including to Israel, and decreasingly felt as outsiders because of wider acceptance in society, Lee said the Anglo-Jewish community feels the absence of that kind of gathering place. “We want this back,” she said people tell her. “We want to have this again.”
Still, Lee said it took someone like her, who isn’t from England, to recognize that there was a story to tell about the hotel and the people who worked and stayed there — especially the many married couples who met there.
She said it’s also no accident that director Justin Hardy and screenwriter Jack Fishburn aren’t Jewish; they could see the hotel as part of the miraculous story of how Jews still exist after thousands of years. They also recognized the Green Park’s history as a love story.
The most difficult technical challenge in making the movie, she said, was “the British Jew.”
People in Anglo-Jewish society, Lee said, just want to keep their heads down and carry on.