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.




Pittsburgh is where terrific walk-on musicians play with Yiddishe Cup.  We had a Duquesne University guitar teacher, Kenny Karsh, sit in at wedding.  How many jazz musicians know “Yossel, Yossel” and Chusen Kale Mazel Tov”?  He did.

At another Pittsburgh gig, the bride’s uncle sang.  He requested the key of Ab.  Nobody but a pro asks for Ab.  He sang “Unchained Melody,” a slow song, even though the bride had emailed “NO SLOW SONGS.”  But what could she do, the singer was her uncle.  He was a hit.  (Brides don’t know what they want.)  He was in a Chicago society band.

Pittsburgh’s JCC has an outdoor clock with Hebrew letters on it.  Pittsburghers rebuilt their JCC in Squirrel Hill, where it had previously been.  In Cleveland, no Jewish institution would rebuild in the same place.  Twenty-five years and out.  That’s the rule in Cleveland.  Move it.

Pittsburgh JCC

Pittsburgh JCC

When the Cleveland Heights JCC moved to Beachwood in 1985, my dad, Toby, bought a plaque for the new cloakroom. The plaque, which was no bigger than a business envelope, cost several thousand dollars.

Nobody noticed the plaque.

Several years later, the Beachwood JCC expanded, and Toby’s cloakroom was in the heart of the action, right next to the new auditorium.

My dad could always pick property.

Except in New Mexico.  That was out of Toby’s wheelhouse.  Toby foundered whenever he left Ohio. He bought a piece of land near Albuquerque that went nowhere.

Lot for sale.  Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Lot for sale. Rio Rancho, New Mexico

He also did a deal on a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Fla., and lost money because he wouldn’t — or didn’t know how to — play ball with the crooked city administrators.

A relative, Lefty, sold my father the New Mexico land in 1965.  Lefty was a Jew with a tattoo.  Lefty lost a lot of money for a lot of people.

Toby didn’t hold the deal against Lefty.  The land is still there. It’s not going anywhere.

I saw Lefty at gigs over the years.  He didn’t go by Lefty any more.  He got into basement waterproofing business and made a lot of money.

Forget the Land of Enchantment . . .

Pittsburgh.   Pittsburgh is Yiddishe Cup’s San Francisco — hilly, terrific neighborhoods, great museums and a lot of culture.  “I Left My Heart in Pittsburgh.”  Write it.



Something important happens at weddings, unlike at bar mitzvah parties, where you’re just attending a family reunion. Pass the family reunion T-shirts.

The ultimate low-stress gig: a 50th wedding anniversary party.  Play whatever you want. Everybody is glad to be there, period.

For weddings, the bandleader sometimes gets mounds of emails and communiqués beforehand.  The bride doesn’t want the band to play anything slow, nothing from Broadway, and she wants to hear her Bollywood MP3s at break.  Also, don’t announce the newlyweds’ names, but if you must, say “Jen and Zach.”

“I’m NOT taking his last name!!” the bride emails.

Not every bride is hands-on, though.  Some say, “We know Yiddishe Cup has done this many, many times.  You know what works.  We trust you.”  These are the best brides.

Here’s what works: skipping the Bollywood music, strolling table-to-table, varying the musical styles and inviting guests to sit in with the band.  Toasts work too — in chunks.  No more than three toasts in a row.

And having the wedding in Pittsburgh.  Preferably at the downtown Westin.  The staff there feeds Yiddishe Cup before the guests.  Maybe because we’re important out-of-town musicians.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Wed., Sept 29,  Fairmount Temple, and  7:15 p.m. Thurs, Sept. 30, Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter


1 Ted { 09.15.10 at 12:27 pm }

In your favorite movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, about shady real estate salesmen, there is a banner in the background of the main room where they work that says, “Buy Rio Rancho Estates.”

So, there you go.

2 MARC { 09.15.10 at 2:40 pm }

After my father died, some friends bought a plaque for him at the local Jewish hospital. It’s a tile on the floor placed right near
the front, a great location! However, I was there Sunday and it was covered by a small rug.

3 Bill Jones { 09.15.10 at 3:48 pm }

Regarding Cleveland Jewry’s eastward migration, some years back, when it seemed foreordained that this would continue way into the future, a CWRU physics professor (Paul Kantor–whom I believe you know) figured out when the Cleveland Jewish community would finally arrive in NYC.

Thanks to the great recession, that’s not going to happen, but it does cause one to reflect on why the community appears to be relentlessly moving to Yedimsvelt (forget looking this one up–it’s a family phrase–maybe dorfish velt would be better), or East Jesus in English.

4 "Kenny G" { 09.16.10 at 8:53 am }

Re: Section 1 [of this blog post]:

Regarding the “25-Year Rule,” things have gotten a bit better, with the HCCs [Heights Community Congress] and other developments and trends. Yes, the community has considered a location and bldg. kind of tired after 25 years in general, but the Hts. Temple went on for about 54 years anyway, and then skidaddled.

Of course sites were looked into, and architects hired many years before that (pre-1973 — when I came — and there was already a sketch of the planned bldg. when we visited the place).

Park [Synagogue] has at least held its main services at Park Main for 60 years — so far. But not all that much any more…. That moving [Park] offices recently – a shame!

Federation in signature bldg. 45 years and then – poof!

Green Road – big group outward, simultaneous with big Orthodox group moving into, particularly last 5-10 years. Same thing must have happened around S. Taylor Rd. and then Warrensville Ctr. Rd. in ’50s and ’60s. On and on….

Sounds like your Dad was not unhappy with the JCC having a branch in Beachwood if he donated to it.

5 Bert { 09.16.10 at 9:28 am }

To “Kenny G”:

I used the “25 years” figure because I was thinking of the JCCs. The Mayfield Road JCC went up in 1960, and the Beachwood (Mandel) JCC went up in 1985 and was completed in 1986.

My father liked the concept of a new JCC. “New” was always good. He bought his first new car in 1957 and never went back to “used.”

Leave a Comment