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, didn’t want an obituary. He thought that might tip off the IRS to his change in status. Nevertheless, when Toby died, an editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked to write something. The editor was a friend of my dad’s.  My mother said no. The writer persisted, because years prior, Toby had gotten the editor a moonlighting job — editing the newsletter for the key company where my dad worked.

No again, my mother said.Toby wound up in the Cleveland Jewish News. That was OK.  Not too many IRS agents read that.

Theodore "Toby" Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

Theodore “Toby” Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

It wouldn’t have mattered; my dad lived his entire adult life under an alias: Stratton. He had gotten “Stratton” out of a phone book. His birth name was Soltzberg. How had he felt about all that? Fine, he often told me.

I had my doubts. (His two brothers stayed Soltzbergs, while Toby rode off to become Stratton of Judea.)

His only regret, which was momentary, he claimed, was when his then 21-year-old daughter dated a sheygets (gentile boy) from Parma who had no college degree. Back then Toby said, “If I hadn’t changed my name, this wouldn’t be going on!” He picked “Stratton” in a waiting room, waiting for a job interview.  He got the job and changed his name in 1941.

The story sounded like BS to me. I thought Toby might have been embarrassed and insecure about his Jewishness.  A lot of Jews back then jumped to the U.S.S. Wasp. I’ve read  half the Jews in the U.S. changed their names. [Commentary, August 1952,”Name-Changing — And What It Gets You,” by J. Alvin Kugelmass.]   Some of the impetus for the name-changing was anti-Semitism and a desire to “pass.”  (I’m not blaming anybody. Different times back then.)

When I was right out of college, I told my dad I was going to change my name to Soltzberg. He went nuts. He said, “You’re looking for trouble!  Don’t do it!”

Decades later I lectured on Mickey Katz at the International Association of Yiddish Clubs convention; I was wearing a “Stratton” nametag and an old man approached me, asking, “Are you related to Toby Stratton?”

“He was my father.”

“I left town in 1941,” the man said, his eyes on my nametag. “It was there, right there in my apartment, when he talked about changing his name. He had gotten turned down by three chemical companies.  He was one of  the smartest guys I ever met.  He changed his name and got a job right then.” Solid.

For years one of my Soltzberg uncles had told me Toby jumped ship because my mother had wanted to “pass.” I liked the right-in-my-apartment story better.


A version of this appeared here 9/16/09 and in the Jerusalem Post 1/16/12.

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1 Bill Katz { 06.14.17 at 9:29 am }

The story I always heard via his sister-in-law, my mother, was about med school quotas – that he would’ve gotten in with a different name. But that may have been just the tale of why my dad changed his. All I know for sure is that him having changed from Katz to Kent is why other kids called me cigarette on the playground. It did save my dad from a ticket once since the congressman then was a Kent.

2 Ken Goldberg { 06.14.17 at 10:40 am }

The fact that you put the effort into digging up the old article (you gave us longer ones then) and editing it means you’re obsessed with this situation. Go back legally to Soltzberg, already, and be done with it! If your sons don’t follow suit that’s their business.

3 don friedman { 06.14.17 at 12:42 pm }

Just think, Bert, you could have been Bert Smith or Bert Jones if you dad didn’t choose the ‘Stratton’ page. Or what about Einstein! You would be Albert Einstein!!

4 Joey { 06.15.17 at 8:31 pm }

I’ve never heard this story. I like Stratton. Might change my name to that or to another name that will make it easier for me to get a job. Maybe something more “ethnic.”

5 David Rowe { 06.16.17 at 5:52 am }

There are other reasons people change their names.

6 Ken Goldberg { 06.21.17 at 10:08 am }

In the Capra film of 1920, “Younger Generation,” which is combination silent and talkie, the son wants to do away with his parents’ Old World and Jewish ways and changes his name from Goldfish to Fish. Odd….

7 lucy stratton { 08.30.17 at 11:04 am }

we should prob all change it – i don’t think its too complicated…

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