By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO June 4, 2004 Mannie Halbert, the man who helped build the Raleigh Hotel into one of the great resort hotels of the Borscht Belt, passed away on Saturday at the age of 91.
At his funeral this week at the Joseph N. Garlick Funeral Home in Monticello, he was remembered in front of a packed house as a caring and giving person, as well as a highly disciplined and principled man, said Rabbi Irving Goodman of the Mikvah & Talmud Torah of Woodridge, and the Dean of the Hebrew Day School of Kiamesha Lake. (Halbert helped raise and donated thousands of dollars for the school over the years.)
Halbert also paid for many funerals, which his employees could not afford. He raised money for chemotherapy patients.
But he never asked to be patted on the back. He never wanted to be honored. When he caught wind of a surprise ceremony for him, he pulled out.
His word was his bond, said Goodman. He paid back loyalty with loyalty.
Marvin Scott, a television news reporter in New York City with Channel 11 and former reporter for Fox, reflected on his years working for Halbert as a bellhop at the Raleigh in South Fallsburg in the 1950s.
Halbert never missed anything, he said. When Scott came to visit last year, Halbert leaped across the lobby to pick up a piece of paper. And when Scott was a bellhop one day on Passover, he and his buddy attempted to sneak a Passover dinner from the guests dining room for themselves. They disguised their move as a meal for a sick guest.
Just when they thought Halbert was going to catch them, he added wine and dishes and placed a napkin underneath in order to do it the right way. Halbert got a real kick out of the story when Scott told him years later where the food actually ended up.
Halbert was born in Poland. His father Joseph was a devout Jew who taught Bar Mitzvah lessons in order to send his family to the United States. Eventually, Mannies parents set up a small grocery store in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where they lived. His father, who spent his life devoted to the synagogue there, was killed in the last of several muggings in the house of worship.
Halbert entered the Army during World War II. He worked his way up to sergeant and earned a Bronze Star for his bravery while helping save a young American soldiers life in France. (And he was nearly killed doing so.)
One of Mannies jobs as a young man included working at Howard Clothes for $1 a day. Later, he took a job delivering pretzels and soda to hotels in New Jersey and the Catskills.
One of the hotels in Lakewood, New Jersey had a concession owned by Max Sach. Sach asked Mannie if he would like to help run his other concession at Ratners in Sullivan County. Mannie agreed and ended up falling in love with a young woman named Nettie, who worked behind the front desk. Her parents, Harry and Lena Cherkoff, were the host and hostess of the hotel. They were hired for their affable personalities, which lured a great many people from New York City, said Laurie Landon, Halberts granddaughter.
Mannie married Nettie, who became the most important part of his life. Together with Netties parents, they bought Ratners and turned it into the Raleigh. Over the next few decades, the Raleigh expanded and became the destination for thousands of people every year. Top-flight entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Mason, Milton Berle, The Byrds and Rodney Dangerfield appeared on its stage.
When Nettie died of cancer in 1971, Mannie was devastated, said his friends. Goodman said Mannie never recovered from the tragedy.
Michael Waschitz, who served as his accountant and was his good friend, recalled how Mannie always pointed to her picture when in his office. Waschitz broke into tears throughout, choking up as he spoke of his longtime friend.
Waschitz called Halbert a compassionate man who helped many people. He even used to hire an immigration attorney so his employees could bring their families into the country.
Mannie also had a passion for racing horses. He owned about 30 standard-bred horses throughout his life, and many proved to be highly successful. His greatest horse, Slapstick, set a world record for two-year old standard-breds in Kentucky.
At the prestigious $2 million Woodrow Wilson Race at the Meadowlands, the same horse finished an honorable third, and it was said by those that were there that Mannie never touched the ground during the whole race.
Bob Ferrar Halberts best friend, longtime comptroller for the hotel, the longest-serving employee at the resort, and a frequent racing partner of Halberts said Slapstick would have won if he hadnt been interfered with at the beginning.
Mannie was just as keen with his horses as he was in running his business. Ferrar told a story about one horse, Fortune Skipper, for which three owners had paid $100,000. After a short time, they wanted to sell the horse for about $5,000 because the trainer thought his foot was no good.
Halbert didnt understand how they could stand to lose $100,000, so he bought the horse at the sale for $5,000 and went on to make over $100,000 in winnings from him. And he eventually sold the horse for $50,000.
Mannie Halbert is survived by his two daughters, Laurie Landon and Ellin West, as well as three grandchildren.
Laurie Landon is currently overseeing the operations of the hotel. When asked about her future plans for the legendary resort, she said, It is too early for that. Right now, I want to keep his memory going.