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, was a lot like his mother.  One of Toby’s mother’s favorite expressions was “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”  (Don’t you be a chump.)  Toby’s mother owned a candy store, raised four kids almost singlehandedly, buried a three-year-old daughter, and during her retirement years, owned a four-suite apartment building.  She was nobody’s sucker.

Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren — like me — foyl (lazy).  She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe (grandmother).   I wasn’t going to call her Bubby. Too effeminate.

Bub was not into baseball; she was into casino (a card game), the television show Queen for a Day; borscht, boiled chicken and cows’ feet.  She could eat. She had sugar diabetes.   Bub wore bubbe shoes.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964).  Circa 1951.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964). Circa 1951.

I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from.  I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.

Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl (village) of Grodzisko.  She came to America at 20.

In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.”  That was dead wrong, but it made sense.

In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with us.  At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut (kosher observance).  Bub wanted my aunt to not keep kosher.  Keeping kosher was too expensive.  Bub was an apikoros (non-believer), socialist and cheap.

Bub, circa 1904.

Bub, circa 1904.

At Bub’s funeral — at the shiva (mourning) meal — the question of kashrut came up again.  My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington), plus my Uncle Itchy, were at our dining room table.

Uncle Itchy, sitting next to Delaware Lil, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”

“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.

Itchy, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat?  It’s not kosher!”

Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil.  1964

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil. 1964

“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?”  said Delaware Lil.

“Yes,” said Washington Lil.

“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.

“Yes, it is,” said Washington Lil.

My mother, Julia, interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” (Non-kosher meat.)   Mild laughter.  My mom was the peace-maker.

And the Lils didn’t talk to each other for a long time.  Years.

. . . Grodzisko, Galicia, Austria-Hungary.  I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the Shtetl Finder map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), about 60 miles west of Przemysl.  The various shtetls (villages) had so many different names.  That was the trick.  And there were several Grodziskos.

Mili Seiger 1939

Mili Seiger 1939

During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.”  It was from cousin Rachela Seiger.  It was in Polish and said, in brief, “How are you?”  On the flip side was a photo of  Rachela’s  sister Mili.

The Germans invaded Poland four months after the postcard was mailed.

I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust museum) online archives.  There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers, I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.

There are three types of Jews.  Not Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.  Try American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust.  Each about a third.  These are my people.


This story was cross-posted on  The Forward, online, last month.

Thanks to Yiddishist Lori Cahan-Simon for help on the expression “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”

Footnote . . .  Plotting Grodzisko by Teddy Stratton, 1998:


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1 ralph solonitz { 03.23.11 at 9:38 am }

heartwarming…proud to be one of your people and your friend.

2 Irwin { 03.23.11 at 10:22 am }

Nice writing Bert. The story interests me as I am always trying to unravel my family’s European past as well.

The squabbling family reminded me of my own. My parents used to pretend that everything was kosher when my aunt & uncle came for Pesach seders.

Little did they know, my dad would have liked to keep kosher, but living in Euclid without a car made it too hard.

Also, liked your line at the end about the 3 categories of Jews, although my philosophy is that we are all Jews regardless of where we lived, what we believed, or what trauma we went through.

3 Jessica Schreiber { 03.23.11 at 10:27 am }

All of us carry around memories of our bubbes (mine was called “Budsie,” a combination of “grandmother” and a derivative of her name Rose).

Like your Bub, she was a big fan of Queen for a Day and the soaps, funerals of famous people, e.g. JFK — anything verklempt.

Thanks for sharing your memories in such an evocative post.

4 Ted { 03.23.11 at 12:19 pm }

Grandma [Julia] never called me lazy. She was too nice for that. Thankfully, I had Wanda call me lazy all the time.

5 Larry { 03.23.11 at 5:01 pm }

My father’s family was also from the Galicia province, so I’m told, although we’re not Jewish. Maybe that’s why I always felt comfortable around my Jewish friends?

I have to do some digging to find out what town they were from though. I know the borders were changed several times, with every new war that popped up. It’s complicated….not like the Italian side of my family.

I enjoy your blogs when I do get a chance to read them. Keep ’em coming!


Larry Koval
Little Fish Records

6 Alice { 03.23.11 at 8:40 pm }

To Teddy: I guess every child needs someone to call them lazy. Luckily Wanda carried on the tradition.

To Bert: Bubbie Soltzberg, according to your mother, Julia, used to re-wipe all the countertops after Julia. It used to drive Julia nuts.

7 Ksenia Roshchakovsky, { 03.24.11 at 10:00 am }

This is the area where my family came from! Except we called it Halychyna, Peremyshell, and that it was in Ukraine. The borders shifted a lot back then. Thanks, Bert!

8 Seth Marks { 03.29.11 at 4:17 pm }

I have a Lil Seiger who was a cousin to my mother, and she had an Uncle Itzie (Yitzhak). This was on the Kritzer side of the family.

My mother’s oldest sister was known to everyone also as Bubbe. She had lots of logic and opinions but little formal education. I loved her summation of how to deal with people you disagreed with….”Shut up and listen…then do what you want.”

Nice piece, Bert

9 Bert { 03.30.11 at 12:03 pm }

To Seth Marks:

Actually, I had three aunt Lils, one of whom was Lil Seiger. She was married to my Uncle Itchy — the Itchy in the blog post. Itchy was my great uncle and Lil was my great aunt. The Lils in the blog post are other Lils.

Stay tuned, Seth, to see if we’re brothers.

10 Jordan Rose { 04.03.11 at 7:03 pm }

Uncle Bert – This is the best. I had no idea my great grandma was so tough and hard working. It inspires me. I am glad you also had a hard time explaining where the family was from. . .constant boundary change

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