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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.

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.



If you’re on the Cleveland Workmen’s Circle concert committee, there’s a 25 percent chance you’ll be dead in 10 years. (I counted the dead from a 10-year-old committee roster.)

An elderly woman suggested we include a tribute to a recently deceased committee member in our concert brochure. But the brochure’s cover already read “in memory of Eugenia and Henry Green,” the concert’s principal funders.

I said, “People are dying on this committee every other year. We can’t be putting in written testimonials.”

“Like who?  Who’s dying?” the woman asked.

I didn’t name names.  Why sidetrack the meeting?

The committee met in a room under a portrait of Eugene V. Debs.  A photo of Norman Thomas was in the hallway.

This committee in its prime — about 20 years ago — was like hanging around the cafeteria at CCNY or Western Reserve University in the day.  There had been Max Wohl, Socialist (capital S) and major ACLU donor; David Guralnik, editor of the New World Dictionary; Herman Hellerstein, the cardiologist who first recommended, in the 1960s, exercise after heart attacks; and Harold Ticktin, Mississippi civil rights lawyer (summer 1965), authority on the Jewish Bund, and former “Kinsman cowboy” (Kinsman Road loiterer).  Ticktin said the Jewish Kinsman cowboys in the 1930s called the Italian Kinsman cowboys “noodles” and shkutzim (gentile boys).

Committee members occasionally called each other “friend,” a quasi-socialist salutation.

Several “friends” decided to honor Yiddishe Cup with a Workmen’s Circle dinner.  What Yiddishe Cup didn’t know: the honoree paid to be honored.

Ben Shouse, friend in charge of fundraising, had a booming voice and a shock of gray hair like H.L. Mencken.  And he wore suits like Mencken, and he smoked a cigar like Mencken.  Politically, Shouse was un-Menckenable.   Shouse was a retired labor union boss, autodidact (he liked inculcate), and an advocate for the arts, especially “Shakespeare for the workers”-type events.

Shouse phoned me, suggesting Yiddishe Cup musicians pony up for the banquet.  He said, “Stratton, you know how these things work. Cooperate!”

I didn’t know how these things worked.  Not in 1994, I didn’t.  I thought Yiddishe Cup was being honored because we were good — some sort of arts prize.  I had played tribute dinners before, but had never understood the dynamics.  Shouse said he had raised thousands at a previous dinner in honor of his elderly girlfriend.

Two Yiddishe Cup musicians told me they couldn’t afford the price of the dinner, let alone bring friends, or crazier yet, “buy a table.”

I corralled three people, including my wife, to attend.  I hesitated to hock friends, particularly for a chicken dinner at a windowless Alpha Drive party center.  And my friends would have to listen to speeches about a fraternal organization, Workmen’s Circle, most had never heard of.

Shouse phoned Yiddishe Cup’s singer and said to him: “Stratton gave fifty-five dollars.  Greenman gave twenty-five dollars.  How about you?  And who are you bringing?”

Shouse nearly traumatized my singer, a sensitive artist.

One Yiddishe Cup musician didn’t bother to show up for the tribute.   Another musician rewound his Shouse phone message for me: “This dinner is in your fucking honor!  You’re sophisticated. You know the rules.  Do your part!”

Shouse died in 2003. He raised a lot of money for the arts in Cleveland.

This year the concert committee added several younger members. Odds are now probably less than 25 percent of a random-selected committee member dying in the next 10 years.  Also, the  Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas pictures are down. Rebbe Menachem Schneerson is up.  A Chabad-affiliate organization bought the Workmen’s Circle building and shares it with the Workmen’s Circle. Now playing in Cleveland: Enemies: A Love Story.

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1 Les Rottner { 05.26.10 at 1:29 pm }

Fundraisers are always interesting for the bands. To wit, our klezmer group was asked to DONATE the evening with our music and entertainment for a shul (to remain nameless) around here.

Our response was that if the oil company was going to donate the next fill-up, and the plumber was going to donate the next emergency service call, we’d be happy to play for nada as well . . . We weren’t invited again.

2 Alan Douglass { 05.26.10 at 1:40 pm }

“…unMenckenable.” Brilliant. I’ll say, he was!

3 John Urbancich { 05.26.10 at 5:30 pm }

In his heyday, I used to see Shouse everywhere — and I do mean everywhere. I guess it was my heyday, too.

4 "Kenny G" { 05.27.10 at 10:35 am }

Here we go again, Bert – It’s Kinsman ROAD….

I knew Ben Shouse slightly. A man with real class – e.g. he lived on one of those streets with 50 similar bungalows in a row around Warrensville and Miramar.

Very much like Miriam Greene, who died in Feburary:
She used to come to many of our WRAH meetings and actually took one of my classes and attended one of my lectures. We last saw her, I think, at her apartment in Judson Manor. She was actually quite happy there. When the mgmt. wanted her to move out of one apartment (probably because it was to become the assisted living or nursing home segments), she moved upstairs and had the new one decorated exactly the same. Old Money all the way…

5 Bert { 05.27.10 at 11:32 am }

To Kenny G:

Didn’t you tell me that Kinsman was an “avenue” in the prewar days? Maybe I should ask somebody who remembers, or call Cleveland Public Library reference desk..

Or visit this shul and poll the congregants:

Kinsman Avenue Church of God
6902 Kinsman Road
Cleveland, OH 44104

. . . Just called the library and got the word: both the 1929 and 1938 city directories say “Kinsman Road.” I will change Kinsman Avenue in this post to Kinsman Road and never make that error again.

6 Steven Greenman { 06.09.10 at 12:29 pm }

I vaguely remember the fundraiser. Did I really give 25 bucks? No wonder Shouse liked me.

He was loud and aggressive, and right in your face with a booming voice. He was also someone who really cared. I found him a bit scary, but he appreciated my music. A mentsh.

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