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.



Congregation Beth Am’s social hall smelled. The stained drop-ceiling tiles were caked with decades of latke grease. And where did Beth Am get that gefilte fish air freshener it used in the back entrance? My bubbe’s place on Kinsman Road circa 1960 smelled better. My klezmer band, Yiddishe Cup, played the last wedding at Beth Am in 1999. The Beth Am building is now the New Community Bible Fellowship, with crowds like for Yom Kippur.

Beth Am had approximately 400 adult members on closing day. The temple membership – Conservative affiliation — debated downsizing, closing, or possibly merging with a bigger temple out east. One-fifth of the congregation voted to stay. Four-fifths said, “Let’s go.” The rabbi, Michael Hecht, said “Let’s go,” and his vote counted disproportionately. Like most congregants, I respected Rabbi Hecht. He liked opera and classical music, and he put musicians in the same category as physicians. That alone was worth paying full dues. Rabbi Hecht knew some Greek and said “musician” meant “healer by Muse,” and “physician” meant “healer by physics /nature.” I don’t know if that’s right, but it sounded good. He also said any congregant, no matter how poor, can give tzedakkah. If you’re broke, give blood, he said. That has always stuck with me.

Rabbi Hecht was not warm and fuzzy. He wouldn’t wear a full-out costume on Purim. Maybe a crazy hat, at most. He was a Yekkie (German Jew) who sermonized on how life is not fair. He said improve the planet. He said distribute “artificial justice.” Rabbi Hecht was born in Germany in 1936, came to America as a child, and started Johns Hopkins at 16. He wrote articles for Good Housekeeping, Conservative Judaism and the Cleveland Jewish News. Nothing terribly prestigious there, but still, copy. When Rabbi Hecht died at 80 in 2017, the funeral service lasted more than an hour. It was at the newer synagogue by the outerbelt – the congregation that Beth Am merged with. Many eulogizers hammered on about Rabbi Hecht’s love of music. He used to go regularly to the Cleveland Heights Library to take out classical CDs to duplicate. According to one eulogizer, Rabbi Hecht liked the Beatles. The eulogizer said “In his [Rabbi Hecht’s] collection he also had some Led Zeppelin and even Metallica.” Rabbi Hecht had three adult children. They must have been the rockers. Rabbi Hecht hated rock. It was always too loud. At a Chanukah party he told Yiddishe Cup to turn its speakers down — twice. Our sound guy finally said, “I can’t turn it down. Our sound system is completely off.”

Whenever I drive by the New Community Bible Fellowship, I think about the smelly Beth Am social hall and Rabbi Hecht, and the congregants who sniffed around.

I had an essay in the Wall Street Journal last week about playing clarinet for Holocaust survivors. “Holocaust Remembrance at Cafe Europa.”

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1 Kenneth Goldberg { 02.23.22 at 9:31 am }

I liked the aroma, which I associated with the “hamishe” theme some liked to associate with Beth Am, though at least one individual – the “tall guy” – came to hate the image and expressed his feelings, as usual, in front of the other members. You left out two options for the future of Beth Am, also discussed on and off for years – building a brand-new building, such as on a then-swampy property at Cedar and Lander roads, or taking over and remodeling an existing building of some sort further out.

2 marc adler { 02.23.22 at 2:32 pm }

My old Temple, Torat Yisrael , conservative, of Cranston Rhode Island is now a Evangelical church. Torat Yirael moved to East Greenwich about 20 miles away to a more rural environment where upscale young Jewish families reside.
At least the Evangelical church is very pro Israel.
Image, a guy from Cranston who moved out of state and comes back home, goes into his old Temple and sees crosses up.
“Wow , this place has really gone reform!”

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