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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.



Some Jews don’t like choirs in temple. Some can’t stand guitars.  Some can’t stand temple.

I have a friend who is down on “temple Jews,” meaning people who actively participate in synagogue life.  They’re too conventional, possibly.

I’m a temple Jew — at least on occasion.

My family belonged to Silver’s Temple, named after Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.  The temple’s official name was The Temple.

“Which temple do you belong to?”


“The Temple” morphed into  “The Temple – Tifereth Israel ” after the rabbi and his son — also a rabbi — died.   My family didn’t fit in there, in the 1960s, because many of the members were a lot richer, mostly from Shaker Heights.  One Shaker kid arrived in a  station wagon driven by a chauffeur in a shiny-visor cap.

My youngest son went through religious high school at The Temple.  The place had mellowed by then. Nobody cared anymore if you weren’t a descendant of the Deutsche Yehudim,  Cleveland’s original German Jewish settlers.

When my parents left Silver’s, they went to a more middle-class temple in the ‘burbs.  My mom taught macramé there.  Volunteered in the sisterhood gift shop.  Collected  “donor points,” to reduce her ticket price to the annual temple dance.

Yiddishe Cup has played some of these parties.  Not so many lately, because few people want to dance at temples.  They’d rather stay home and watch people dance.

My parents joined this heymish (homey) suburban synagogue after I was confirmed, so I didn’t much care what they did.

(Heymish, the word, should be banned, starting now. Too heymish.)

On the High Holidays, I sometimes went with my parents to the heymish temple, or I’d go to Hillel at Case Western Reserve. After Rosh Hashanah services, I’d eat at Tommy’s restaurant with my 20-something friends.

Years ago a woman told me, “I joined Fairmount Temple because I like the music there.”   She had another reason: Brith Emeth didn’t even have money to carpet, she said.   She liked Fairmount Temple’s bent toward classic Reform music.  That stuck with me: joining a temple for the music.

I go to my synagogue because, among other reasons, I like the music and the rabbi — who likes my band.  Yiddishe Cup is scheduled to play my shul’s (synagogue’s) holiday celebrations until roughly 5800.  (We’re at 5770 now.)

I played a different shul’s holiday gig, where the rabbi left early to attend a rock concert.  The rabbi told me the band’s name.  Famous.  I wasn’t impressed.  I was peeved.  The rabbi was walking out on Yiddishe Cup.

It’s impossible to be a rabbi.

My synagogue uses a choir once in a while. I like the choir.  Took me a while.  Some Jews think a choir is super-goyish.  Not true.  In Europe there were synagogue choirs as far back as the 1500s.

Some temples have rock bands.  I’ve subbed in one.  The congregants really enjoy that groove.

I can see picking a shul for the music.  Why not.

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1 bill jones { 09.23.09 at 10:00 am }

Bert, you missed the old controversy over organ music with the choir. Particularly for East Coast transplants to Cleveland, that was really shande(shame), to put it politely.

Not having attended other shuls lately, especially during the High (musical and otherwise) Holiday season, I don’t know whether organ music still exists in Reform shuls.

Perhaps its been done in by the use of contemporary bands instead. That seems like really shande, too.

Cantors can make a good living at shuls, and leading or using a band would seem like contrary to their potential career length. After all, they’d have to learn to lead the band while singing. Talk about a leap of faith.

Nevertheless, there are any number of holidays when a band’s presence makes sense in terms of merriment, for dancing, etc. So may you enjoy more business from every one of them, and soon. Imagine that, Yiddishe Cup with a franchise here in Cleveland for multi-bands (cost?) to perform at your shul for X holiday.

2 Shawn Fink { 09.23.09 at 10:04 am }

Since you mention Silver’s/THE Temple, a little side note:

Some years ago at a community lecture, the speaker mentioned “The Temple in Jerusalem,” referring to what is also known as “The Great Temple” or the “Beit HaMikadash,” which existed 2000+ years ago.

After repeated references by the speaker to “The Temple in Jerusalem,” a lady in the back asked her husband, “Jerusalem? When did we open a branch THERE?!?”

3 Jane Lassar { 09.23.09 at 2:15 pm }

I’m one of those people who attends services because of the music. I’m also a person who vowed never to attend a service of a local Reform temple (name withheld) because they staged a PUPPET SHOW on the bimah during Yom Kippur services.

I can understand wanting children (and adults, for that matter) to enjoy the service, but frankly having Ernie and Bert conduct High Holiday services seemed a bit silly, even for me–a liberal Reform Jew.

I prefer a traditional service with traditional music. The melodies for the High Holidays are exquisite, whether chanted by a cantor or sung by a choir.

4 Jessica Schreiber { 09.23.09 at 7:08 pm }

As a relative newcomer to Cleveland (3 years), I am bereft without a temple. I need something to complain about.

You can always complain about the shul — the rabbi is boring, the service goes on forever, the people are clannish, the choir is made up of goyim, the congregants chants off-key. The only thing worse is to not have a Jewish community at all.

All of this brings to mind a joke my uncle used to tell. Perhaps you’ve heard it. An old Jewish man is discovered stranded on an small island where he has lived alone for for thirty years. While debriefing him, he is asked about the hut he built on the island. “That’s my temple,” he tells them proudly. Looking at the far end of the island the rescuer sees another hut. “What’s that?” he asks. The old man gets red in the face, points an accusing finger at the other hut, and says, “And that is the temple I DON’T go to!”

5 John M. Urbancich { 09.23.09 at 7:14 pm }

You have to see the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man.” It’s about people who leave long comments on blog sites. Not really. Just see it when it comes out (in November, I think). Then thank me with a dinner at Corky and Lenny’s.

6 Bert { 09.23.09 at 7:21 pm }

To John M. Urbancich:

I like long comments. They make the blog more interesting. Different perspectives — all good.

Also, don’t forget, if a comment writer produces enough verbiage, the writer gets a free Yiddishe Cup T-shirt.

This is real-world stuff. Harvey Kugelman, who reached quota here, got a free T-shirt.

John, you’re 1888 words shy of the free T-shirt, according to the Klezmer Guy supercomputer.

7 Irwin Weinberger { 09.24.09 at 9:42 am }

I was a cantorial soloist at two synagogues. At Ner Tamid in Euclid I used a guitar on Friday nights with some of the songs. People either liked it or hated it. I used to get into hot water with the temple board over it, but I persisted in using it because I saw myself more as a song leader than a soloist, and the guitar seemed to engage people in the singing.

When I was the cantor at Beth Shalom in Hudson, I was a guitar hero. Everyone loved it there, and I never got any flack. I’ve always been a bit turned off by the highbrow approach to the High Holidays with a choir and organ. I prefer my religion simple and down to earth. Like a comfortable rocking chair.

8 Shawn Fink { 09.24.09 at 3:47 pm }

Coming to a Playstation or Wii near you: Guitar Hero – The Irwin Weinberger Edition!!!!

Try to play along with Irwin on such Shabbat classics as “Bim Bam,” “Shalom Aleichem,” “Lecha Dodi” and more!

(If you market this idea, Irwin, I want a percentage) ;-)

Followed of course by “RockBand- Yeshiva!”

9 Harvey { 09.25.09 at 9:59 am }

How many words to reach the next Yiddishe Cup complimentary gift level? And what will I win?

I don’t have anything of interest to say but, man, I really dig the SWAG this blog offers.

I’m thinking shot glass, or a wind-up monkey with a yarmulke dancing to “Yesh.”

Am I close?

10 Mark { 09.26.09 at 12:14 am }

When I was growing up, my parents switched back and forth between denominations — we were Methodists in Barberton, Presbyterians in Ellwood City. When we landed in Elyria, just before my senior year, they didn’t like either Methodists or Presbyterians, for some reason, so one fine Sunday, my father and I trooped off to the Congregationalist service. (I can’t say now why only the two of us went.)

Socially, it was a cut or two above the Methodists and Presbyterians. And the service, including the sermon, was classier that what I’d been used to — smooth, cultivated multi-syllables instead of the familiar fire-and-brimstone. But what really struck me were the cushions on the pews. Cushions on the pews! After countless Sundays squirming on hard wood, this was sinful, decadent luxury.

“Dad, let’s go to church here.”

He agreed. We became Congregationalists.

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