Just about everyone has had to change their summer plans, and many are searching for alternatives that are family friendly and not that difficult to get to. My suggestion would be to consider Rochester, New York. Many of you may not be aware that Rochester is the third largest city in New York State. It is an easy drive of about five hours from this area. For those who feel that it might be difficult for their children or themselves to sit in the car for so long, the opportunities to visit other landmarks along the way awaits them.
One could go through the Catskills on Route 17 and spend a night or a few hours there, others driving along Interstate 80 would have the opportunity to visit the Delaware Water Gap. Aside from the beautiful scenery there is also the option of going white water rafting. I did notice as we drove to Rochester via I-80 that the road goes through the Pocono Mountains and directly by the Kalahari Resort, which is open and a familiar venue for many local families.
It is a beautiful ride, and while approaching Syracuse, the drive by Lake Onondaga enhances the trip.
Rochester is approximately one hour from Syracuse. Unfortunately, the New York State Fair, which is an annual occurrence in the summer of each year on the expanse of the fairgrounds in Syracuse, has been canceled this year.
There are many hotels in the Rochester area and I would strongly advise not to stay in the downtown area.. Everything and anywhere you go is within easy driving range. The primarily Jewish area is in Brighton where there are an array of shuls all having minyanim—some indoor and others outdoors. The kashrut situation is nowhere as plentiful as in most major cities. There is one kosher restaurant with delicious food (many Israeli and Moroccan delicacies) but one can only as of this writing take out food. There is also a kosher bakery, a kosher bagel store where only the bagels are kosher, Thursday evening pizza from Chabad (must order in advance), and Lipman’s, a kosher butcher that sells deli and other frozen products. (See sidebar for more information.) There is a famous local joke that when one is applying for a job in Rochester, if the company/school/hospital is interested in enticing you to take the position they take you to see their pride and joy, which is the local Wegmans store. Wegmans, which some of us are now more familiar with because they are infiltrating the New Jersey area, with their closest store being in Montvale, originated in upstate New York. The Wegman family hails from Rochester and the business began as a small fruit and vegetable market. It frequently wins the award as the best supermarket in the USA, and if you spend time there one can easily understand why. (Especially if one is able to avail themselves of their huge takeout food department and bakery.) They do have many kosher items as well as kosher packaged meat.
For a family with children, the highlight has to be the Strong Museum, which houses the Strong National Museum of Play within its building. There is a mini Wegmans section where youngsters can shop with their own shopping carts, choose items and then check out at the individual cash registers. As well there is the Toys Hall of Fame exhibit where hours can be spent playing, watching and admiring. The details of what is available for families to see at the museum are too numerous to detail. Check out their website and at the same time please take note of their special COVID hours and rules and regulations. As part of the Rochester Museum And Science Center there is the Strasenburgh Planetarium and Cumming Nature Center. All of these adventures are easily checked online at their websites.
Out of doors activities are plentiful upstate as well. The city of Rochester borders on Lake Ontario and there are beaches, places to rent pontoons and other fun activities. The Erie Canal spans 100 miles and Rochester is right in the middle. Paved paths run along the canal for bike rides, jogging, kayaking in different places and beholding the beauty of Schoen Place, which is in the city of Pittsford (right next to Brighton), where cute little boutiques, benches to sit and ducks waiting to be fed as well kosher yogurt stores are fun for one and all.
Niagara Falls are only 1½ hrs away from Rochester, and remember that at this time all tourists must remain on the Canadian side as the border is closed.
For those who want something more sedate, there are beautiful sites in Lake Canandaigua with charming accommodations and a large Wegmans as well to pick up food items. I am going to relinquish saying anything major of the many things to do in Rochester to the excellent explanation of Rifka Chilungu, a young Jewish mother living with her family in Rochester who has composed an absolutely wonderful compilation of the local spots for visitors and locals as well. It details all trails, where the playgrounds are, where to rent a kayak, etc. Please be in touch with me if you would like a copy of her list. Thank you, Rifka. It is with her permission that we have this available and she asked me to remind everyone that, due to COVID, many parks close early due to the number of people visiting them. Be sure to call first.
In complete fairness I have to say that I do not know Rochester as I do Montreal. Every year my Montreal travel piece has been of help to many. Due to the borders being closed to Americans this year, I thought Rochester would be a good idea because it is not that far and not as congested as big cities are.
If there is anything else I can help anyone with in planning this trip do not hesitate to be in touch. I can be reached at [email protected].
Nina Glick lives in Bergenfield after many years of service to the Montreal Jewish community. Nina coordinated all Yachad activities in Montreal and was a co/founder of Maison Shalom, a group home for special needs young adults. She can be reached at [email protected].