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.



Zemach Zedek, on Lee Road by the old Cleveland Heights post office, is the only storefront shul left in Cleveland.

I was in Zemach Zedek (Z.Z.) a few months ago with my cousin’s teenage son Aaron, who was visiting from Kansas City.  Aaron is Orthodox and wanted to go to morning minyan (quorum).

Zemach Zedek, aka Z.Z.

Because I’m a lefty, I needed left-handed tefillin (tefillin).  The nine other guys in the minyan had to scramble for lefty tefillin.  (Lefty tefillin are wrapped different than righty.  Fact: Lefty tefillin go on the right arm.)

Z.Z. in Hebrew

Afterward, I asked Aaron if he wanted to go back the next day to daven (pray).  He said, “I don’t think anybody there speaks English.  It was like Europe or something.”  So we went to Green Road, to a Modern Orthodox shul.

I knew the rabbi at Z.Z.  Rabbi Kazen.  He wasn’t there.  He was living with family in New York, I heard.

Chabad-Lubavitch –- headquartered in New York –- had sent Rabbi Kazen out to Cleveland in 1953.   Rabbi Kazen was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) at Coventry Poultry while running the shul.  Coventry was the last live kosher poultry market in Cleveland.  (Rabbi Kazen was involved in a few  “lasts.”)   Coventry Poultry closed in 1995 to make way for a parking garage.  My wife, Alice, did a photo project on Rabbi Kazen in 1980:

Zalman Kazen, shechita knife and chicken

I admired Rabbi Kazen.  He drove a school bus — often filled with Russian immigrants — and lived on Glenmont Road in the student area.  He appeared to be the emes: the real thing.  He fed the poor and was usually in a good mood.   Rabbi Kazen looked like Menachem Schneerson, the late head rabbi of Chabad.  (No biggie. Half of Chabad looks like Rabbi Schneerson.)

I first heard the word freylekh at Rabbi Kazen’s in 1978.  A davener (worshipper)  said to Rabbi Kazen, “Your daughter’s khasene, rabbi, it should be freylekh.”

What? I didn’t understand the Yiddish “punch line.”

I guessed the first part correctly (chasene) from the context. Wedding.  [Years later, an Orthodox woman said to me, “Does Yiddishe Cup play chasenes?” I said, “Yes, we’ve played for Hadassah.” She said, “Chasenes!”]

I asked the davener at Rabbi Kazen’s what freylekh meant.

Freylekh is “cheerful, lively.”

Freylekhs is also a klezmer term for a lively fast dance.  I say “freylekhs” a lot now.  I announce:  “The band is going to play a freylekhs, hora, ‘Hava Nagilah’ medley . . . whatever.”  And we hit the downbeat.

Rabbi Kazen died last week at 92  in New York.

Strike up a freylekhs — and a “Chicken Dance” lick — for Rabbi Kazen and Z.Z.

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1 emilie123 { 07.20.11 at 9:44 am }

Thank you for this post. Rabbi Kazen was truly a wonderful man. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have known him and his wife. A truly sincere, honest and kind man, with the highest of intentions, has left this earthly world.

2 Bill Jones { 07.20.11 at 9:47 am }

Thanks for the memories, Bert. Now if there was only some record of Harvey Pekar and Rabbi Kazen interacting, both being on Coventry at the same time, that would be interesting.

As it was, they existed in totally different worlds, so chances are they never met. Interesting that Rabbi Kazen lasted longer than Harvey, and appears to have had far, far more nachas.

3 Joey { 07.20.11 at 10:01 am }

Good stuff

4 Kenny G { 07.20.11 at 10:15 am }

Last year Lillian had sort of a “memorial party” for a guy we knew many years, and Shulamit Kazen [Rabbi Kazen’s wife] and her daughter Devorah Alevsky attended.

They sort of checked out the refreshments, but also had a great deal to say about this Bob, whom it turned out had done a great deal of food-bank work and other activities for their community.

We (particularly Aaron) also know the Alevskys’ daughter and rabbi husband.

5 Harvey { 07.20.11 at 10:21 am }

@Bill Jones: funny you should say that. At ZZ we have wondered aloud about that potential Battle of the Titans, Kazen v. Pekar.

Rabbi Kazen, obm, had wonderful relationships with people you would never expect, given the differences in philosophies and life experiences. Harvey Pekar lived close to the shul, and it’s a shame he never wandered in.

6 alice stratton { 07.20.11 at 11:33 am }

I was taking a photography class and the assignment was to do a photo essay. I was fascinated by the Coventry Poultry market–it was so Old World and primitive.

The picture of Rabbi Kazen and the chicken is my favorite. He’s very clear and focused with the light on his forehead. The chicken is a blur. I think I got an “A” on the project.

Anyone interested in the photo essay as a memorial to Rabbi Kazen can contact me:

7 MARC { 07.20.11 at 2:45 pm }

My friend Rabbi Yoshua Laufer is the 63-year-old Providence version of Rabbi Kazen. He is the real thing. He cooks Friday night Shabbos dinner for all who need it at his Chabad House. He phones men daily to make a minyan and will pick up those in need of a ride.

He is always in good humor and has a sense of humor. He has 10 sons and 2 daughters. All but one son is either a Chabad rabbi or studying to be one. Three of his sons are Chabad rabbis in RI.

8 marc { 07.20.11 at 2:45 pm }

I am not a spammer and I’m not married to one.

9 adrianne greenbaum { 07.20.11 at 3:50 pm }

Great, beautiful, wonderful AS ALWAYS, Bert.
I’m coming to your neck of the woods to perform at Oberlin Saturday late afternoon. Might have time to collaborate on something (a klez service, a Menorah gig?) Friday. Maybe Sunday, but not sure. Let me know if anything occurs to you. Just love your writing.

10 adrianne greenbaum { 07.20.11 at 3:51 pm }

Good grief. My date of the concert at Obie is Oct 15…..

11 Kenny G { 07.21.11 at 8:12 am }

Regarding your trip to ZZ, it just points out anyone left-handed should carry around lefty tefillin everywhere, to be prepared. One never knows what might happen….

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