I’m not Orthodox, but I can walk the walk. Walking is a major part of my religion.
Last week my wife, Alice, and I walked home from Rosh Hashanah services. We were at Altamont and Compton roads, in a mostly black section of Cleveland Heights — close to a mostly Orthodox neighborhood.
Three black boys pulled up on bikes. The boys were out of school because Cleveland Heights closes on Rosh Hashanah.
I had on a yarmulke. I like to wear a yarmulke in public once in a while, just to “out” myself.
D’Shawn, leaning on his handlebars, said, “You Jewish?”
“Yes,” I said.
He turned to Alice. “You Jewish?”
“Total Jewish?” he asked.
“Yes,” my wife said, smiling. She knew D’Shawn. Alice teaches gym in the local public school and knows a lot of kids. “Being Jewish is a good thing. The food is good . . .”
“You go to that building [synagogue] up on Taylor?” D’Shawn asked.
“No, we go to the big temple — the one with the dome — over there,” Alice said, pointing toward Euclid Heights Boulevard.
Alice wears slacks. She doesn’t wear a wig. She doesn’t look Orthodox. (She isn’t — not by a long shot.)
“You breaking Armish?” D’Shawn said.
I said, “Breaking Armish? Did you say ‘breaking Armish’? What’s that mean? You mean ‘breaking Amish’?” Either way, it made no sense to me.
Breaking Amish is a reality TV show about Amish kids breaking loose in New York. The first episode was on last week. (I Googled this info when I got home.)
D’Shawn apparently thought Alice was “breaking Armish” because she doesn’t look like a member of the local black-hat Orthodox crowd.
Side B — “Beer and Coconut Bars,” a classic blog post — is below this video.
This clip may be the most innovative vid on earth. By Jack Stratton. Michael Brecker (on electronic wind instrument) jams with Uncle Milty Friedman.
A version of this post ran on CoolCleveland.com last year (12/6/11). This version has more illustrations and pics!
BEER AND COCONUT BARS
My dad admired bankers. In my dad’s pantheon of great Cleveland Jewish families, the number one clan was the Bilsky family, who made bagels, then went into medicine (son #1), bowling alleys (son #2), and started a bank (son #3). My grandmother used to say “The Bilskys make big bagels out of little bagels.”
Dr. Harold Bilsky, son #1, had liked Yiddishe Cup. Harold had grown up with my dad on Kinsman Road. Harold wouldn’t be at the gig. He died in 2007. Leo, son #2, wouldn’t be there either. He died in 1998. I asked Scott, “What about the banker?”
“That’s my grandfather Marvin,” Scott said. “He’ll be there.” Marvin is 90.
At the gig, I talked to Marvin during our breaks. He told me, “Everything I ever did began with a B — baker, banker and builder. Plus brewer.”
That “brewer” part was news to me — Bilsky a brewski?
“My father bought Cleveland-Sandusky Brewing in 1955,” Marvin said. “There were very few Jews involved in the brewing business then. In the 1960s, Israel came to us for brewing tips and equipment.”
Marvin said there were only four other Cleveland breweries in the 1950s: Carling’s from Canada (“very nice people”); Standard Brewing; Erin Brew, Irish; Leisy’s, German; and Pilsener’s P.O.C., Czech. Bilsky’s brewery bottled Gold Bond beer and Olde Timers Ale.
“We all used to meet on Mondays. I didn’t have any trouble with anybody,” Marvin said.
The last local brewery in town was Carling, which closed in 1984. National breweries killed off the locals.
My father never taught me about brewskis. He rarely drank; it would have interfered with his worrying. (Old Jewish joke.) I knew about Carling’s from old Cleveland Indians’ radio ads. “Hey, Mabel, Black Label . . . Carling Black Label beer.”
Bilsky’s brewery was just a blip in the Bilsky biz history. The Bilsky business was Bilsky’s Bakery, which had started on Kinsman and moved to Cedar Center in 1948.
Who invented the Cleveland coconut bar?
That was the question I should have asked Marvin. My dad had loved coconut bars (and halvah). I should have asked.
Marvin was in the phone book . . . .
“Marvin, this is Bert Stratton from Yiddishe Cup, the klezmer band.”
“Thank you for the concert yesterday. You did as well as you could,” he said. “No, seriously, we enjoyed it! To answer your question, I’ve always said my father invited the coconut bar, but — and I have to tell you this — I went to Sydney, Australia, and I went down into the subway there. They have a small subway system. They had coconut bars down there! They didn’t call them coconut bars. [Australians call them lamingtons, says Google.] Where did they get them? Maybe from England. Australia used to be part of England.”
“Marvin, I have a friend, my age — his grandfather was Kritzer’s Bakery on Kinsman – my friend says his grandfather invented the coconut bar.”
“It was my father!” Marvin said, laughing. “Who knows.”
I called my cousin George Becker, whose father had owned Heights Baking on Coventry. George said his father didn’t invented the coconut bar.
Yippee, one less Coconut Bar King to contend with.
Former Clevelander Scott Raab wrote in Esquire (July 2002): “Ask for coconut bars in any Jewish bakery from New Jersey to Los Angeles and you’ll get some version of this: ‘So, you’re from Cleveland . . . We don’t have ‘em.’”