Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.



My father, Toby, said he didn’t want an obituary. He thought that might tip off the IRS to his change in status.

Nevertheless, when Toby died, an editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked to write something. The editor was a friend of the family.  My mother said no.  The writer persisted, because years prior Toby had found the editor a moonlighting job.  The editor had written the in-house newsletter for the key company where my dad had worked.

No again, my mother said.

Toby wound up in the Cleveland Jewish News. That was OK.  Not too many IRS agents read that.

It wouldn’t have mattered; my dad lived his entire adult life under an alias: Stratton.

He had gotten “Stratton” out of a phone book. His birth name was Soltzberg.

How had he felt about all that?

Fine, he often told me.

I had my doubts. (His two brothers stayed Soltzbergs while Toby rode off to become Stratton of Judea.)

His only regret, which was momentary, he claimed, was when his then 21-year-old daughter dated a sheygets (gentile boy) from Parma who had no college degree.  Back then Toby said, “If I hadn’t changed my name, this wouldn’t be going on!”

He picked “Stratton” in a waiting room, waiting for a job interview.  He got the job and changed his name. 1941.

Sounded like BS to me.  I thought Toby might have been embarrassed and insecure about his Jewishness.  A lot of Jews back then jumped to the U.S.S. Wasp.

I’ve read  half the Jews in the U.S. changed their names. [Commentary August 1952. “Name-Changing — And What It Gets You.” J. Alvin Kugelmass.]   Some of the impetus was anti-Semitism and some was a desire to “pass.”  (I’m not blaming anybody.  Different times back then.)

When I was right out of college, I told my dad I was going to change my name to Soltzberg.  He went nuts.  “You’re looking for trouble!  Don’t do it!”

Decades later I did a lecture on Mickey Katz at the International Association of Yiddish Clubs convention; I was wearing a “Stratton” nametag, and a very old man approached me, asking, “You related to Toby Stratton?”

“He was my father.”

“I left town in 1941,” the man said, his eyes focused on my nametag.  “It was there, right there in my apartment, when he talked about changing his name.  He had gotten turned down by three chemical companies.  He was one of  the smartest guys I ever met.  He changed his name and got a job right then.”

Solid info.

For years a Soltzberg uncle had told me Toby had jumped ship because my mother had wanted to “pass.”

I liked the right-in-my-apartment story better.
1 of 2 posts for 9/16/09.  Please see post below too.

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1 Harvey Kugelman { 09.16.09 at 10:48 am }

“J. Alvin Kugelmass” changed his name from Kugelman.

Just shows how horrible we are at passing, complete absence of requisite subtlety.

2 Irwin { 09.16.09 at 10:56 am }

That’s an interesting story, Bert. I too prefer the apartment story. It is hard sometimes getting at the truth of the past. But in the end I guess it comes down to which truth is right for you.

3 Irwin { 09.16.09 at 11:00 am }

My cousin Marvin changed his name from Weinberger to Warren back when he moved from Cleveland to LA. He felt that it would open doors to getting into the law profession.

I decided to keep the name Weinberger. I felt that it would open doors for getting into the klezmer profession. It worked!

4 Terri Zupancic { 09.16.09 at 1:55 pm }

Never heard the Soltzberg story before, Bert. That’s a good one. Did you notice that there’s a “tz” right in the middle? Maybe I was a Soltzberg in a previous life.

5 diddle { 09.16.09 at 3:44 pm }

join the facebook group, dude.

6 Mark { 09.19.09 at 5:19 am }

You know, my grandfather changed his name from “Shilling” to “Schilling.” I never heard the story on the that one. Maybe he got tired of hearing stupid jokes (“Who ya shilling for, Shilling? Har, har.). Maybe he got fed up with having it misspelled as “Schilling”and gave in.

It didn’t matter — people still misspell the name, just the other way (“Shilling” for “Schilling”), again and again, sometimes in the same paragraph.

I can’t say my grandfather ever lost a job because of his name though. Maybe it even helped my father, in some strange, subconscious way, when he interviewed with J.C. Penney. (“I have the feeling you’ll fit in with this organization just fine, Vern.”) Speculation, speculation…

7 Yente { 08.02.12 at 5:48 pm }

It’s 3 years too late for Harvey Kugelman [who commented in 2009], but “Joseph Alvin Kugelmass” was born and died a Kugelmass. Check all the US Censuses back to 1920. He was born a tad too late that year for the 1910 Census.

Where did Harvey get such a nonsensical idea?

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