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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.



I’m not Kenneth. I was supposed to be Kenneth, but my mother’s father, Albert Zalk, died four days before I was born. So I got “Albert.”

My grandfather died unexpectedly of a heart attack on a Saturday night (July 9, 1950); was buried the next Monday; and I was born three days later. Over the years I asked my mother how she made it through that week in July 1950. She always brushed me off with “I’m wasn’t even thinking.”

Albert Zalk. Cleveland, 1940s.

Albert Zalk. Cleveland, 1940s.

Here’s a parallel between my grandfather and me: Albert Zalk spent the last 18 years of his life collecting money for the Jewish Orthodox Old Home, and I’ve spent the last 20 years playing music at Menorah Park, the successor to the Jewish Orthodox Old Home. My grandfather wasn’t a big-time fundraiser for the home. He was not a macher. He was an edel (gentle) man and part-time Hebrew teacher. He lived in an apartment on East 140 Street and had little savings. His three daughters slept in one bedroom. Maybe he was a schnorer — a derogatory term for a tzedakah collector. I bought a membership to the Plain Dealer archives the other day and read Albert Zalk’s obit: “[Albert Zalk] known to thousands of persons in the Cleveland Jewish community for his activities in behalf of the Jewish Orthodox Old Home . . . was a familiar figure in all parts of the community.” So Albert took care of business, and for a good cause, besides.

Albert Zalk arrived in New York from Eishyshok, Lithuania, on the President Lincoln, via Hamburg, in 1909 at the age of 24. He made his way to the Mississippi Delta. His older sister was already there, married to a former-peddler merchant. Albert eventually owned two dry-goods stores, in Yazoo City and Louise, Mississippi. Albert had financial success. My mom said her childhood house in Yazoo City had a maid, cook and “yard boy.”

yazoo record label

My mother bought me a harmonica for my bar mitzvah. A chromatic harp — not a blues harp — but still, give her credit. I played harmonica a lot on the Diag at the U. of Michigan. Yazoo Records was a blues-reissue label that started in the 1960s. I liked the company logo.

Julia Zalk Stratton, 1953, with her kids, Leslie (front) and Bert (rear). South Euclid, Ohio.

Julia Zalk Stratton, 1953, with her kids, Leslie (front) and Bert (rear). South Euclid, Ohio

The Depression walloped my grandfather’s Mississippi stores, and he moved to Cleveland in 1930. Also, he wanted his three daughters to find Jewish boys to marry, and there weren’t many in Mississippi. Two years after arriving in Cleveland, Albert was traveling through Cleveland Jewish neighborhoods collecting money for the old folks home.

A relevant relative: Ann Sklar of Mississippi. She never married and lavished extra attention on her extended family. My mom said Annie didn’t marry her longtime sweetheart because he wasn’t Jewish, and she didn’t want to hurt her parents. Annie graduated from Mississippi State College for Women (The “W”). That was a somewhat unusual thing — a female college grad back then. (My mom was accepted to Flora Stone Mather, the women’s college at Western Reserve, but didn’t go because she couldn’t afford it. She saved her acceptance letter and attended secretarial school.) Ann Sklar became a secretary and office manager at W. P. Brown farm (Drew, Mississippi) — the largest individually owned cotton plantation in the South. When I was born, Annie sent me an engraved kiddush cup, along with her handwritten card that began “Dear Little Albert . . .”

On Monday I’m playing at Menorah Park for the first time in four months, because of Covid. Outdoors. Little Albert on the bandstand. (For the record, I’m 5-8, and have been avoiding “Albert” for most of my life.)

kiddish cup albert stratton albert zalk

The engraving on this kiddush cup reads “And it was evening, Albert M. Zalk, 1880-1950. And it was morning, Albert Stratton, July 13, 1950.” [1880 is wrong. Should read 1885.]

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1 Bill Katz { 07.15.20 at 11:58 am }

Never knew that, not even sure my brother Kenneth does—he’ll have to weigh in. Far as relo-ing from MS, I always heard it was a flood that sent them packing, though undoubtedly the depression didn’t help. Celeste’s (Julia’s younger sis) 1st words reportedly were to the nanny: momma!

2 Bill Jones { 07.15.20 at 12:53 pm }

Aha! A Litvak. No wonder you’re so smart and belong to a Conservative shul

3 Kenneth Goldberg { 07.15.20 at 8:45 pm }

Whew! Took me three weeks to read all of that! Give me a break…. now, considering the meaning of the name Kenneth, do you really consider it appropriate you’d go all through life with it? Cheesh! I know you’re interested: It looks like my main grad. school girlfriend was born the same day as you: 7/12/1950. She majored in Music (trumpet) at SUNY Binghamton.

4 Mark Schilling { 07.16.20 at 12:47 am }

My grandmother, Florence Rea, died on July 8, 1949 when an asthma attack caused her heart to fail. I was born on August 7 and have often wondered whether the shock to my mother screwed with my physiology/psychology. That would make two of us, no?

5 Kenneth Goldberg { 07.16.20 at 11:37 am }

The funny thing is Julia looks something like Alice in that photo….

6 David Korn { 07.29.20 at 10:05 am }

I agree with Kenneth — That’s her! Explains a lot.

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