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.


 
 

Category — Cleveland, Full

DELI DEATH

 
My kids liked Corky’s. The blintzes, the pickles, the halvah, the phosphates. But I’m not here to write food nostalgia. Too cheesy.

C&L’s closed, for good, Tuesday. The word in the local press — Cleveland Jewish News and the Plain Dealer — is C&L’s had a problem getting good help. That ain’t news. I’m skeptical.

My dad was a chocolate-phosphate addict. So is my daughter, Lucy, who called the phosphates “chocolate frost feets.” Cleveland musician Mickey Katz, in his autobiography, called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.” (Katz’s son is Joel Grey.) Katz drank “Jew beers” at Solomon’s Deli on East 105th Street in Glenville.

My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.” That’s typically a putdown in the Jewish community, meaning my father knew more about corned beef than Torah. Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

My father probably drank no more than 100 real beers his whole life. He should have! In his retirement — when he drank more — he smiled a lot more. A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. The golf club was a driver, a wood. Solid.

I grew up on chocolate phosphates, just like my dad and my kids. I drank many of mine at Solomon’s in the Cedar Center shopping strip in South Euclid, where Solomon’s had moved — from East 105th Street — in the 1950s.

For some Semitic, semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. This has nothing to do with the present war. It’s just the word strip, as in Gaza Strip and shopping strip, made for an interesting juxtaposition. The north side of Cedar Center looked pretty bad, actually. In the early 2010s it was concrete chunks and gravel heaps, until a real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and put up a Bob Evans and other national chains.

Bob Evans is good. Not knocking it.

The C&L’s at Cedar Center lasted until 1994. A second Corky’s opened further east in 1973. That one — the “new” one — just closed. Confused? Simply put, there are no more C&L’s in Cleveland.

At Cedar Center Corky’s, a couple small tough Jews hung out in the rear booth. One was Bobby (pseudonym.) Bobby did collections for a major landlord. Major, to me, meant more than 500 units. I knew Bobby from junior high. Bobby sued my mother. Mom, for health reasons, had moved from her Beachwood apartment, where Bobby collected rents, to an assisted living facility. She had a couple months left on her lease. She had lived in the  apartment 27 years. Bobby went after her. Bobby’s boss, by the way, loved my band. So what, my mother was collectable.

Delis have been going downhill for decades. In 2010 journalist David Sax wrote a book, Save the Deli, about the decline of the deli. Here’s something for your next edition, Mr. Sax; Delis went downhill when they added TVs. Why are we forced to watch sports while we eat?

I’m deli-famous. Listen to me. I once wrote a thank-you note which was posted in the entrance of Jack’s Deli on Green Road in Beachwood. My letter was about the terrific tray Jack’s had prepared for the bris of my first child, Teddy. (Jack’s Deli is still standing.) Oh yeah, my first bris as a dad . . . fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish. In my letter I complimented Jack’s on their white fish, which my Aunt Bernice the Maven approved of. I used the expression “Aunt Bernice the Maven gives her seal of approval” in my letter. Bernice worked for a food broker and knew food.

Do you prefer Jack’s Deli or Corky & Lenny’s? I asked that question just last week at a gig. I queried a nursing-home crowd about their favorite deli.  Jack’s and Corky’s ran a dead heat. After my quiz, my keyboardist and I played the song “16 Tons (of hard salami),” which is  the Mickey Katz parody of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” (of coal).”

Yikhes (lineage): My dad grew up in a deli on Kinsman Road. His mother had a candy store /deli at East 118th Street and Kinsman. The deli was called Seiger’s — my grandmother’s maiden name. She sold it to her half-brother, Itchy, when he came over from the Old Country. Something fishy about that deal. My grandmother went from being a candy store/deli owner to simply a candy-store owner.

I once played the “deli card” to establish my bonafides. In an odd place. I was working as a police reporter in Collinwood, and the cops at the police station on East 152nd Street considered me a Jewish hippie spy from the Heights. But when I told the cops I was a Seiger, as in “I’m from Seiger’s Restaurant, you know, on East 118th and Kinsman” — the older cops suddenly took a liking to me. The older cops—mostly high-ranking guys — knew Seiger’s Restaurant well. Seiger’s had been like a Damon Runyon casting hall; all manner of hustlers, cops, businessmen, and schnorrers had hung out there. (Seiger’s closed in 1968.) The schnorrers were Orthodox Jewish tzedakah (charity) solicitors; they had their own booth in the back. My great-aunt, Lil Seiger, served the schnorrers kosher food from her apartment, which was in back of the store, because the schnorrerwouldn’t eat the non-kosher food. The deli was kosher-style, not kosher. Cops ate well at Seiger’s, and nobody ever got a ticket for an expired meter, and sometimes cars were parked two lanes deep on the street, an old cop once told me. Itchie Seiger, my great uncle, was the restaurant’s maitre d’, a k a kibitzer (glad-handler). He was a former cloak maker from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. My grandmother Anna Seiger Soltzberg was a Galitizianer, as well.

I personally didn’t see Itchie very often. My parents didn’t consider a drive from our house in South Euclid to Kinsman the right direction for a Sunday cruise. We usually wound up going east, toward the Chagrin River metro park.

My great-aunt, Lil, supposedly gave her recipe for mish mosh soup to Corky’s. All the deli owners knew each other. So I’m connected to Corky & Lenny’s. Pass the Jew beer. Slurp.

A lot of  this post originally appeared in Belt Mag in 2014. The graphic is by Ralph Solonitz.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week. “Maimonides Goes Wrong.” It has the word schnorrer in it, too. Link here. No paywall.

 

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December 12, 2023   1 Comment

HERBERT GOLD
OF HATHAWAY AVENUE

 
I wanted to be to Herbert Gold, who wrote for Playboy and other mags. He also wrote novels about growing up in Cleveland. They weren’t good novels. They were too wordy, going in circles. He couldn’t do plot. (Not too many people can.)

Gold was one of a handful of Jews who grew up in Lakewood in the 1920s and 1930s. He lived on Hathaway Avenue. He died on Nov. 19 at 99 in San Francisco. His father ran a small grocery store in Lakewood, and the father — unlike most Cleveland Jews — didn’t settle on the East Side. (Lakewood, on Cleveland’s West Side, was beyond the pale for Jews back then, and still is to some extent.)

Herbert Gold. circa 2010.

I passed Gold’s house on Hathaway Avenue in the 1970s on my way to managing apartments in Lakewood. I had unpublished novels; I had a lit agent in New York. I wanted to be the “next Herbert Gold,” though slightly better. Instead, I became the “first Bert Stratton.”

The Prospect Before Us was Gold’s novel about managing a rundown hotel on Prospect Avenue in Cleveland. You’d think a book with such a good title would be good, but it never went anywhere. It wasn’t funny or tragic. Don Robertson, another local novelist, was better. Robertson could be funny, for one thing.

Gold’s memoir My Last Two Thousand Years — about his father and Herb’s relationship to Jewishness — was moving. He wrote, “My father came to America from Russia and lived in a basement on the Lower East Side. I came to America from Lakewood to live in a basement on the Lower East Side. I washed dishes, cleaned rooms, waited on tables and tried to learn a little Yiddish [1942, NYC].”

Gold moved to San Francisco in 1960 and stayed there. He visited Haiti often. I occasionally saw his brother Sid on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. Sid was a Coventry cowboy — a regular in Harvey Pekar’s comic books. Sid didn’t have a job and played a lot of chess.

In a 2021 interview, Gold said, “I’m very preoccupied with the fact that I’m not going to live forever. Death is inevitable and I have to accept it. I’m comforted by the fact that a few people, my children, will remember me or will inherit something from me, and I will be immortal in that sense.”

Herb Gold: a Jewish writer from Lakewood, Ohio. I gotta drive by his childhood house at 1229 Hathaway Avenue again.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 16. “My Gaza Friend is Dead.” [No paywall]

Baraa Abu Elaish (L) and Alice Stratton. Fairfax Elementary School, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. 2014.

On a lighter subject, here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Pondering signs, borders and license plates.”

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert 2-3 pm this Sun. (Dec. 3) at the Beachwood Community Center, 25225 Fairmount Blvd, Beachwood, Ohio. Be there!

Plain Dealer ad, 6/24/36

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November 29, 2023   3 Comments

HOW TO OUTLIVE YOUR PARENTS

 
Do everything right —  and if you’re lucky — you could make it to 94. (I’m not talking 100. That’s freak show.) Take Bob Gries, a prominent Clevelander who died last month at 94. He exercised two hours a day, according to his obit. I suppose one could subtract two-hours-per-day from his lifespan and conclude Gries “lived” a lot fewer than 94 years. Depends what you think of exercise. Bob Gries enjoyed exercise — a lot.

Here’s a funny bit from his obit:“[Bob] wrote a book called Aging with Attitude, which highlighted some of his 100+ adventures and the importance of a daily workout regimen. After reading this book, people told him they were inspired while others said they had to take a nap!” Gries was an endurance runner (100-mile races). He climbed mountains in Antarctica and the Arctic.

Gries was “Our Crowd,” old Jewish money (Cleveland chapter). He was a descendant of the first Jewish settler in Cleveland, a merchant who arrived from Germany in 1837. Gries’ grandfather was the rabbi at The Temple in the early 20th century. The Gries family — through Bob’s mother — owned the May Co. chain in Ohio. The Grieses also owned a minority share of the Cleveland Browns. I could go on.

Bob Gries

I will. Bob Gries’ father went to Yale in the 1920s. Bob went in the 1940s. In the Cleveland Jewish News obit, one of Gries’ sons said Bob served on so many some boards in Cleveland because Bob’s pop had not been welcomed on many boards because he was Jewish. Sound about right for back then.

In the early 1990s, I saw Gries — all farpitzed in a white linen suit — welcome approximately 2,000 proste yidn at a Yiddish concert at Cain Park, Cleveland Heights. Bob was repping the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. He was suave bolo and fit.

The last time I saw Gries was about three years ago on Public Square. He, along with a health aide, were checking out a fringe festival. The man got around.

Dead at 94. That’s good mileage, right? Lessons? He exercised a lot, had health aides, a lot of money and a big family, and he was very involved in the community. Genetics was probably a factor too.I haven’t considered that.

. . . Just did. I considered it — genetics. I just googled Gries’ parents. They died at 65. Dad in 1966 and Mom in 1968. Climb a mountain in Antarctica. You’ll outlive your parents.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert 2-3 pm Sunday, Dec. 3, at the Beachwood Community Center, 25225 Fairmount Blvd., Beachwood, Ohio.

 

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November 21, 2023   3 Comments

VIOLET SPEVACK

 
Violet Spevack, the retired gossip columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News, died last week. She was 107! Born in 1916.

Violet mentioned my band, Yiddishe Cup, a lot. I had an “in” with her. Vi knew my parents from Temple Emanu El (Cleveland), which was originally an offshoot shul that Violet was a founding member of, and my parents had joined. Temple Emanu El was known for being heymish — not snooty. No old German Jewish money. The big money at Emanu El was Maurice Saltzman, the Bobbie Brooks founder. Saltzman grew up in an orphanage.

Violet would call my band “freyleky,” “toe-tapping,” “joyous,” “finger-snapping,” “multitalented,” and “may their cups runneth over.” I had my picture in that column almost as often as the presidents of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

Vi never said a bad word about anybody — in print. Off the record, she warned me not to tangle with certain heavy-hitters in the Jewish community. For instance, one heavy-hitter, who was bossy, dissed my band by saying “Your band is sounding better.”  That meant we weren’t up to her level. I was a bit sensitive back then! This disser ran a Jewish organization that wouldn’t hire us. Vi said, “That woman is very powerful. Steer clear.” I did — for decades. Funny, I eventually became friends with the disser, and she started to like my band. Violet loved all kinds of music. Her husband, David, played harmonica. He was a big fan, too, of Yiddishe Cup.

The only problem with Vi was she was from Glenville (a Cleveland neighborhood). The sheyne yidn (higher class Jews) lived in Glenville. Everything in her columns was Glenville this, Glenville that. You’d think Glenville was the center of the world. (She had been an editor of the Glenville High school paper in the 1930s.) Hey, my parents were from the more proste (working-class) part of  Jewish Cleveland, Kinsman. John Adams High. Vi tolerated John Adams rivals and their descendants!

Vi Spevack

Reunions in Florida for Glenville snowbirds — those were always newsworthy in Vi’s column. The Glenville diaspora ruled. If you had gone to Glenville High and moved to California, you could get ink in Vi’s column for having, say, a good round of golf in Palm Springs.

Violet was all about the phone. Never email. She would write out quotes (from me and other interviewees) longhand and then type them up. She usually called me before publication. Together, we fine-tuned copy. For instance, she would say, “How do you like ‘The heymishe Yiddishe Cup performed with spirit and ta’am (taste)?’” Violet, how about fewer Yiddish words? I couldn’t say that. Violet had her go-to Yiddish stable of well-known Yiddish words, and she worked it hard. She really liked freylach (happy).

Here’s another Yiddish word for you, Vi. Mentsh. As in, “Violet was a mentsh.”

[The photo of Vi is from when I was at her Sherri Park apartment in Lyndhurst in 2012. She was 96. We were talking about Mickey Katz, who she knew from . . . . drumroll,  Glenville.]

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September 13, 2023   2 Comments

BRUDNO

 
Eugene “The Eggman” Brudno sold eggs to bakeries and came to a lot of my gigs. Eugene’s brother, Walter, also sold eggs. Eugene was involved in the Workmen’s Circle. I knew Walter’s son, Marshall, who sold eggs too.

Marshall, now 76, dropped out of Michigan, sold eggs, opened a hippie food store called Marshall’s Grain and Bean; opened an organic bakery (this was in the 1970s) called Stone Oven (different than today’s Stone Oven); closed the bakery; became a plumber; got religious, then got not-so religious; and moved to a farm in southern Ohio.

I was in southern Ohio on a bike trip in 2010 and bumped into Marshall at the Grange Hall in Amesville, Ohio. He offered Alice and me a lift in his pick-up truck. I turned him down but Alice took him up on it. We were on a group ride, the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA).

Marshall is a smart guy who works with his hands. He’s good at snaking drains. He’s good at eggs/ farming/ bread/ plumbing. All hands-on. I think he still does plumbing. I haven’t seen him in 13 years. Marshall knows a lot of Yiddish. He used to daven at an Orthodox shul in Cleveland Heights.

I think about Brudno, the name, a lot because I regularly see Brudno etched in stone on a West Side building. The Brudno building is on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood.

A 19th century Brudno went off to Yale and became a lawyer and novelist. This was in the 1890s! Ezra Brudno. He built the Brudno building in the 1920s. Ezra’s dad ran a cigar-rolling sweat shop. I’ve read about Ezra and his family in the archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History states: “He [Brudno] wrote that there was little, if anything, of value in Judaism and Jewish culture worth preserving.” Harsh.

Cigar-rolling shops were common at the turn of the 20th century. The shops were often in houses. In Cleveland, the cigar-rolling houses were called “buckeyes.” I read an account of a worker who worked for Ezra’s father. The worker was a communist. She wrote about what a hole the place was. She also wrote about Ezra: “He had all the luck.”

Marshall — my  generation — was the ultimate hippie. He probably still is. According to Facebook, he has a small finca in Costa Rica, where he goes in the winter, and the rest of the year he lives on a farm in the hills outside Athens, Ohio.

Brudno: the building. The Brudno men, the legends, right here.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free outdoor concert 7 pm. Thurs., Aug. 17, at Walter Stinson Park, 2301 Fenwick Rd., University Heights. Bring a blanket or chair. We’ll play klezmer and Motown. The concert is dedicated to the memory of Walter Stinson, a University Heights community coordinator.

Yiddishe Cup. 1993. (Half the guys in this photo are still in the band — 30 years later. The left half.)

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August 8, 2023   4 Comments

THE TOUR GUIDE

 
I put up signs on the bulletin board at the downtown Y, offering tours of Cleveland. I was expecting some Danish girls. Maybe Dutch. (I got neither.) I checked out some other Cleveland tour companies. I went on a Grey Line bus tour. “Best water in America — Cleveland’s tap water!” the guide said. Good to know. I rode Lolly the Trolley.

My itinerary of Cleveland was better than these guys. Roll a few bowling balls at that four-laner in Fleet-Broadway, followed by duck at John’s Café on E. 52nd Street. Visit the abandoned power plant in the Flats. (This was approximately 1975, amigos.) Explore the subway route under the Detroit-Superior bridge. Sniff unfiltered steel-mill air atop the scenic Clark Avenue bridge.

No tourists came by. Not even one. Cleveland is not the greatest tourist town. Don’t blame me.

Thirty-six hours in Cleveland . . . The Rock Hall, Severance Hall, the art museum. And if you want to see the Roxy Burlesque and Jean’s Funny House, contact me.

The Roxy on E. 9th Street, Cleveland. (It closed in 1977.)

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July 19, 2023   2 Comments

MICKEY

 
Mickey grew up on the street over from me. He had seven siblings. His dad was a Sealtest milkman. Mickey scored touchdowns. Who can forget his touchdown run against Wiley Junior High? And there was one against Memorial Junior High, too, I seem to recall.

We didn’t hang out that much in high school. So be it. Mostly grade school and junior high.

After Bowling Green U., Mickey moved to Texas and then to Washington state, and I only saw him at funerals and reunions in Cleveland.

A few months ago, he texted me: “I’m back in Ohio.”

What did that mean exactly?

Lake County. He moved there. Mickey moved back to northeast Ohio to retire. Nobody moves to Ohio to retire! He said he moved back here to be closer to his siblings. Ohio has always felt like home, he said. We met for lunch and talked about old times. He asked if I had ever lived outside of Cleveland, and I told him about my three weeks in New York City and three months in Latin America. Pathetic, I know. We talked about Cub Scouts and which neighbors had died.

Mickey’s move to Ohio is a nice change of pace. (Some of my recently retired friends are moving out of Cleveland.)

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week about accosting random people and talking Spanish with them. “For a Language Lesson, Oprima el Dos.”

 

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March 22, 2023   2 Comments

CANADA IS BETTER THAN
THE UNITED STATES

 
My friend Jeff didn’t like Cleveland. He didn’t like tumult: the horns honking, boom boxes, loudmouths, leaf blowers, his parents pestering him. He just couldn’t take it.

I subscribed to Hockey Night in Canada on cable TV for Jeff, so he would babysit my kids for free. Every Saturday night. He liked Canada — really liked Canada. He filled out immigration papers, waited months for clearance, got a job, and moved to a small town in Ontario. He came home the next day. He said he didn’t like the job in Canada, but he liked the Canucks. “They don’t give you the finger,” he said.

Then he moved to Canada again.  This time to Nova Scotia. That worked. Change your place, change your luck.

I haven’t seen Jeff in 28 years. I miss his acerbic slant on life. For a social worker, he was a total misanthrope and blisteringly funny. “Life is With People” was not Jeff’s M.O. He liked to eat Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks alone. He criticized me for going to restaurants too often. He claimed I was on a fruitless existential search for exotic experiences – for foods my bubbe and mother never made. He claimed I would “eat flanken cooked directly off the seat cover of a crosstown bus.”

We listened to Bob and Ray records, played music, and made fun of other Jews. Jeff knew some Yiddish — more than me. His favorite expression was Gey mit dayn kup in drerd. (Go to hell. lit: go with your head in the ground).

I had to drive Jeff everywhere. Lazy guy, and he had a car. I would schlep him to the Near West Side to hillbilly bars so he could jam with bands. He would play “Two More Bottles of Wine “and “Jambalaya.” That was real; it wasn’t Jewish. His favorite records were Nashville Skyline and anything by Hank Williams. Jeff sang only once on the East Side, at a cancer fundraiser at Heinen’s supermarket. He played “Good Old Mountain Dew” by the soda pops and “Oh Canada” by Canada Dry.

Here’s an essay I had in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week (Nov. 30). There’s a paywall at the Plain Dealer. Here’s the whole article . . .

WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE BAND?

by Bert Stratton

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — I occasionally run into young people who lament they didn’t live through the hippie era. They will even listen to my hitchhiking stories. Nobody else will. I tell these young people that the big question in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was, “Who’s your favorite band?”

The more obscure the band, the better.

Some astute choices were The Stooges, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. More mainstream, but still acceptable, was Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. Too mainstream: Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell.

My favorite musician was Fred Neil, a Greenwich Village singer/songwriter. He wrote “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the theme song from the movie “Midnight Cowboy.” Harry Nilsson sang the movie track and made it popular.

Fred Neil was never popular. Good — for me. I sold my Fred Neil records a few years ago. Pete Gulyas, the owner of Blues Arrow Records in Collinwood, said my Neil recordings were worth more than all my Beatles and Dylan records combined. When Pete looked through my records, we found a receipt — $1.50 from Mole’s record store. Where was Mole’s? (It was on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.)

Comic-book writer Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums. Talk about a record snob – Pekar. The only album he ever wanted was my “Charlie Parker Memorial Album,” Vogue Records, England, 1956. I didn’t sell it to Harvey. I figured if Pekar wanted the record that badly, it must be worth something.

Pete the Record Guy looked through my albums three times, and I bid adieu to “Aretha Live at the Fillmore West,” Herbie Mann’s “Memphis Underground,” and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band” ….

Who’s your favorite band now — in 2022? Are you even allowed to have a favorite band? Yes, you are, and you are encouraged to.

Every year in early December, the music-streaming service Spotify spews out data to its 456 million users, itemizing each listener’s most-played tunes of the past year. This annual reckoning is called Spotify Wrapped. Many fans share their Spotify Wrapped profile online; it’s the equivalent of showing off one’s record collection, circa 1970. Your Spotify Wrapped is your cultural ID badge.

I expect my Spotify Wrapped 2022 will feature Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and some newer acts, like Vulfpeck and the Fearless Flyers. (My son Jack is in Vulfpeck. He schools me on post-1975 music.) Songs older than 18 months represent 70% of the U.S. streaming music market, according to MRC Data, a music-analytics firm.

I rinse my dinner dishes to Joni Mitchell and often add Paul Butterfield for pot-scrubbing. Klezmer music is good for putting away leftovers. I’m not only Spotify Wrapped, I’m Saran wrapped.

I hitchhiked from Los Angeles to Chicago in 36 hours in 1973. That was a land-speed record for hitching, I think. The big hit on the radio then was, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” I learned to drive a stick shift, jerkily. The car owner was a Marine from Camp Pendleton, California, on his way to visit his girlfriend in Chicago. At nearly every rest stop, the Marine threatened to trade me in for a more seasoned stick-shift driver. But we made it to Chicago. Tony Orlando and Dawn are not on my Spotify Wrapped.

Who’s on yours?

Bert Stratton lives in Cleveland Heights and is the leader of the band Yiddishe Cup. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music and Real Estate.”

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December 7, 2022   11 Comments

LOSING MY CREDIT

Last week I lost my credit card and went around town looking for it. (Been there, done that, you say.) I retraced my steps to On the Rise, the neighborhood bakery, and the clerk there had about 20 cards in a drawer. One card belonged to a friend of mine. My card wasn’t there.

It had to be there! I had  just done an in-depth regression analysis of every place I had been in the past three days. You know how hard it is to recall everything you’ve done in the past three days? Particularly when you’re 72.

My friend — the guy whose card I had found in the pile at On the Rise — texted me, “Crikey!!!!! That is so weird. Thank you for the heads up.”

I wish store clerks called when they found cards.

I monitored my online statement. I didn’t freak out. Yippee. Nobody was charging anything. If my card didn’t show up soon, I’d call Visa and ask for another one. My son Ted said, “Don’t say you lost it. They’ll cancel your card.” Right-o, Ted. I don’t want to spent two hours online changing all my auto-pays.

Yesterday I was at CVS to pick up a prescription and asked if by chance they had my card. I had also been there the week before to pick up some generic Lipitor. But I had paid cash then. The pharmacist held up my card and said, “I’ve been on a spending spree!” That was funny.

To repeat, I think stores should call when they find cards. (I suspect many stores do.) I didn’t ask the pharmacist why she didn’t call. I didn’t want to wreck my good mood. I love finding things I’ve lost.

[A Harvey Pekar tribute post.]

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 18, at Walter Stinson Park, University Heights. Bring a chair or blanket.

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August 10, 2022   5 Comments

SAVE HORSESHOE LAKE

Losing Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights means losing an important piece of history, along with priceless water views and the dam’s role as a public living room for dog walkers, bird-watchers, and parents pushing strollers.

I didn’t write that. Cleveland.com and Plain Dealer reporter Steven Litt did. [“Removing Horseshoe Lake Dam releases a torrent of potential,” July 29.] In 2019, before the lake was drained, Horseshoe Lake was a “living room.” It was homey — a throwback to an era when people walked around a lot and bumped into each other. Like what we still do at the grocery store. Say, Zagara’s grocery store in Cleveland Heights, except no Cheerios and soy milk at Horseshoe Lake. Only warblers, herons, ducks and sunsets. Free, too.

horseshoe lake. lucy photo

Litt wants to demolish this living room. Litt favors the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s plan to turn the lake into two streams. We already have miles of streams! We have the Nature Center at Shaker Lake right next door, with its boardwalk, gazebo and illustrative signs.

The other day I was at Cumberland Pool, Cleveland Heights. Johnny Weissmuller once swam there. The pool is a treasure. Why? Because it looks like it did when Johnny Weissmuller swam there. Some things of beauty should stay the same. Want to knock down the Cleveland Museum of Art’s 1916 main building and give it a re-make? Would we sell the museum’s painting “Stag at Sharkey’s” by George Bellows?

Nobody ever lost his life in a flood at Shaker Lakes. Why are we going nanny-state to make sure the dam is 110% safe? Again, nobody ever — in the Heights or University Circle – lost her life in a flood in the 170-year history of the man-made Shaker Lakes and dam. There is this Talmudic precept “whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.” But come on, this coddling is ridiculous. The sewer district fears flooding under the Rapid Transit bridge in University Circle, where there is one apartment building – one – that might get flooded. Somebody should buy that old University Circle brick apartment building and vacate the ground floor; pour concrete in it; and call it a day. (I’m doing that tomorrow! joke) Then the old building will look like the science fortresses around that part of University Circle. We’ll be fine.

The sewer board hired a landscape architect from Cambridge, Mass. One of the firm’s owners is Lauren Stimson, who according to the website, “has a deep love for New England, where she was raised, and an interest in the overlap between the built environment and the rural landscape.” Gotta love New England. And here in Cleveland, we have locals with a deep love of Cleveland — locals with the common sense to realize we have a beautiful lake, and it should stay that way.

The Friends of Horseshoe Lake has hired an engineering firm, public-relations firm, and a law firm to fight for the preservation of Horseshoe Lake. Don’t be misled by the sewer people and the Plain Dealer. Check out SaveHorseshoeLake.com.


Here’s my recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: “Finding a Good Plumber is a Heavy Lift.” Read the comments — a lot of ranting about how young people should go into plumbing instead of film studies.

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August 3, 2022   1 Comment

THE HEYMISH AND THE AMISH

I live near two large Amish settlements — Middlefield, Ohio, and Holmes County, Ohio. I know some of  the differences between the various Amish, like some use battery-powered lights on their buggies and some don’t. Some use the triangular orange “slow vehicle” sign.

Speaking of men-in-black, I also know some Orthodox Jews. I know the crocheted yarmulke means Modern Orthodox and the black hat is more old school. I’ve been around Amish and Jews — at the same time — only once. I walked into Green Road  Synagogue (an Orthodox shul) in Cleveland, and there was an Amish man  in the lobby. Maybe not. Maybe he was a Modern Orthodox hipster trying to look Amish. He had a wide-brim straw hat, beard, no mustache a la Solzhenitsyn.

Then I saw about 15 Amish women, carrying parfaits on trays, wearing blue dresses and white bonnets, coming out of the kitchen. Next I saw a horse and buggy at the side door of the synagogue. Orthodox Jews started arriving. Most were Modern Orthodox (like dentists and lawyers in knit yarmulkes), but a couple old-school rabbis looked Amish.

“Solzhenitsyn” stacked bales of hay in the temple lobby and brought in chickens. He was John, an Amish from Middlefield. He said he used to be a wheelwright and now worked for an Orthodox Jew in a mattress factory.  The mattress-factory owner was hosting this sheva brochas (post-wedding dinner). My band, Yiddishe Cup, was playing. The Orthodox host — the mattress man – was a musician, himself, who had some show-biz flair. He was doing a Blazing Saddles party theme. I asked the Amish buggy driver what he thought of our music. He said, “It sounds like Mozart.” Maybe because of the violin?

“Solzhenitsyn” said some Amish in Ohio play harmonica. “That’s all, for instruments,” he said. “Other instruments [like flute, guitar] might lead to forming a band.” A Jewish joke?

The rabbi, as a joke, asked if we knew any Amish songs. We played “Amazing Grace.” That’s borderline Amish. It was probably a first for Green Road Synagogue. The Amish liked the song, and the Jews ignored us.  Then we tried a Yiddish vocal, “Di Grine Kusine,” which didn’t go over. I thought the Amish would like it because Pennsylvania Dutch is Germanic, just like Yiddish. The Amish didn’t react to the  song. Now I know: no “Di Grine Kusine” at Amish-Jewish affairs.

I had a funny article in the Wall Street Journal last week about old guys playing tennis. Here’s the link. No paywall. And check out the comments, particularly if you’re an old guy.

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July 14, 2021   5 Comments

SHOUSE. HE RAISED MONEY

Ben Shouse was a volunteer fundraiser for the Workmen’s Circle. He had a booming voice and a shock of gray hair like H.L. Mencken, and he wore suits like Mencken, and he smoked a cigar like Mencken. Politically speaking, Shouse was un-Menckenable. He was a retired labor union boss and an autodidact (he liked words like inculcate), and he was an advocate for the arts, especially Shakespeare-for-workers stuff.

Shouse phoned me, suggesting Yiddishe Cup pony up for the Workmen’s Circle annual banquet. Yiddishe Cup would be the honoree. He said, “Stratton, you know how these things work.”

I didn’t know how these things worked. Not in 1994. I thought Yiddishe Cup would be honored because we were good. Sort of an arts prize.

Two Yiddishe Cup musicians told me they couldn’t afford the price of the dinner, let alone bring friends. Crazier still, Shouse said, “Buy a table.” I corralled three people, including my wife, into coming. I didn’t want to hock friends for a chicken dinner at a cheesy Alpha Drive party center. Also, my friends wouldn’t want to listen to speeches about Workmen’s Circle, an organization most of my friends had never heard of.

Shouse phoned Yiddishe Cup’s singer and said: “Stratton gave $55. Greenman gave $25. How about you, and who are you bringing?” The singer was speechless.

One Yiddishe Cup musician didn’t even show up for the tribute.

Another Yiddishe Cup musician replayed a phone message from Shouse: “This dinner is in your fucking honor! You’re sophisticated. You know the rules. Do your part!”

Shouse raised a lot of money for the arts.

Ben Shouse

Ben Shouse (Photo by Herb Ascherman) [Shouse died in 2003.]

FREE CONCERT THIS SUNDAY.
Funk A Deli, a k a Yiddishe Cup, is playing on a front lawn near you this Sunday (June 13, 5-7 pm.).

23500 Laureldale Road, Shaker Heights, Ohio. Near Laurel School.

Bring a lawn chair or blanket. Bring dinner. Plop yourself and your possessions on the grassy median strip on Laureldale Road.

The band will play a mix of klezmer and soul music. 

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June 9, 2021   4 Comments

THE RECORD COLLECTOR

Jack Saul was a major-league record collector. You couldn’t find a seat in his house unless he moved a ton of records. Every time he played a record he’d clean it with Windex. No scratches. Smooth-h-h.

He didn’t throw anything out — since day one. He even had a John McGraw baseball card. (McGraw played 1891-1906.) When I sold my baseball cards in 2007, Jack said, “Why’d you do that?” (I wasn’t looking at ’em, Jack, and my kids didn’t want ’em. They didn’t know who Harmon Killebrew was.) “Why’d you do that?” he repeated.

The Cleveland Jewish music scene was all about Jack Saul. Musicians from the Kleveland Klezmorim went to Jack’s house in the early 1980s to record 78s. Those 78s were pristine. When Boston public radio (WGBH) did a show in 2000 about Mickey Katz, they came to Jack for clean recordings. Jack never let a record out of his house. You had to sit there for an hour, or two, and have him dub the records onto tape.

He always had time for musicians. The first time I went to his house, in 1988, I recorded cuts from Music For Happy Occasions, Paul Pincus; Jay Chernow and his Hi-Hat Ensemble; Dukes of Frelaichland, Max Epstein; Jewish Wedding Dances, Sam Musiker; Twisting the Frelaichs; and Casamiento Judio, Sam Lieberman. That last one was an Argentinian klezmer record! Jack had almost every Jewish record. And he had it in both monaural and stereo.

Jack’s favorite popular musicians were Guy Lombardo and pianist Irving Fields. Jack liked musicians who, when they improvised, stayed close to the melody. He phoned Fields when I was over. “What’s new, Irving? I’d like to get you to Cleveland.” Never happened. Everybody talked to Jack, because for one thing, he could supply them with recordings of their own works that they, the musicians, couldn’t even remember making.

Jack had a thing for Guy Lombardo. Jack’s thesis was Guy Lombardo was behind “Bay mir bistu sheyn”s popularity. Jack gave me an article from The New Yorker, Feb. 19, 1938, titled “Everybody’s Singing It — Bie Mir Bist Du Schoen. Played on the air for the first time by Guy Lombardo, Radio Made it the Nation’s No. 1 Hit.”

Jack liked my band, Yiddishe Cup. (He also liked Steven Greenman, Lori Cahan-Simon and Kathy Sebo — Cleveland Jewish musicians.) At a meeting of the Workmen’s Circle Yiddish concert committee, Jack said, “We’ve got talent in this town. We don’t always have to run to New York [for entertainers].” That meant a lot to us locals.

When Jack talked, the rest of the committee listened. He had a stellar rep — Cleveland Orchestra and Sir Thomas Beecham Society credibility. Jack had every Beecham recording. That classical-music imprimatur really cut it with the older klezmer crowd.

Flip side: the rough-edged 78 recording of Abe Elenkrig’s Orchestra playing “Di Zilberne Chasene” (“The Silver Wedding”). Jack had thousands of records like that. Gritty. But not a scratch.

Jack Saul made Jewish music in Cleveland.

 

Jack died in 2009 at age 86, and his records went to Florida Atlantic University.

P.S. A lot of this post was first published in the Cleveland Jewish News in May 2009, but it never got online at the CJN. So by local, contemporary standards, the story doesn’t exist. Does now!

P.P.S. Here’s a comment by Hankus Netsky, leader of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, posted on the Klezmershack website in May 2009:

“What a great guy Jack was. By the way, I’m the one who sent WGBH to Jack’s house for the Mickey Katz records. Before our tour with Joel Grey’s Katz review, ‘Borscht Capades,’ in 1994, I had visited Jack, who had made me the ultimate Katz compilation. We couldn’t have done the show without those recordings — Joel himself had never heard a lot of them!

“Besides the records in every corner (but not in the kitchen, the one concession to his loving and remarkably tolerant wife), the other amazing thing were the front walls of the house that had been hollowed out and replaced with speakers of every shape, size, and frequency.

“A great loss. I sure hope they have a good hi-fi up there . . .”

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May 26, 2021   4 Comments

THE ESTHER ISENSTADT ORCHESTRAS

Esther Isenstadt, a bassist, ran classified ads in the Cleveland Jewish News in the 1970s-80s: “Sophisticated music for discriminating people” . . . “Leave your records at home and bring LIFE to your party” . . . “From ‘The Hora’ to ‘Beat It.'”

I didn’t see her much around town. She worked the senior-adult circuit while Yiddishe Cup played the glam jobs: bar mitzvahs and weddings. Seriously, that’s where the money was. Esther played classical and pop, and some Jewish.

Many years later (2003), I ran into Esther at The Weils, an assisted living facility. She was 86. I told her I had one of her recycled Tara Publications Israeli songbooks. I had bought it used at the Cleveland Music School Settlement. She smiled. Then she didn’t smile, and said, “I never thought I’d end up here!”

Esther had played in four suburban orchestras, raised a family, taught elementary school, led party bands and taught ESL in “retirement.” I had learned “Shir Lashalom” (“A Song of Peace”) from Esther’s book. That tune was a must-play in 1995 — the year Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

Esther had rubber-stamped Esther Isenstadt Orchestras in her songbooks. A Jewish bandleader with a rubber stamp. I got a rubber stamp.

Maybe I’ll follow her into The Weils. But I doubt it. I’m more a Menorah Park guy. Closer to town. (Esther died in 2010.)

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April 14, 2021   4 Comments

TAXI DRIVER

The taxicab supervisor, smoking a stogie, asked me, “Where’s Charity Hospital?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Where’s the Federal Building?”

“Ninth Street.”

“The Pick-Carter Hotel?”

“I don’t know.”

“The Hollenden House?”

“Downtown — St. Clair.”

“People want to know where their hotel is,” he said. He hired me. He worked for Universal Cab, a division of Yellow Cab. I drove welfare recipients with vouchers to hospitals, and workers to Republic Steel Works #4. I didn’t drive rich people; I thought I was going to drive rich people but it was mostly poor people. I picked up one rich guy, downtown. He said, “Severance Hall.”

I asked, “Are you Claudio Abbado?”

“How do you know!” he said. I told him I’d seen his photo in the Plain Dealer that morning. Afterward, I told a friend John I had driven “a conductor from Italy.”

“So why did he come here?” my friend said. John’s favorite expression was “Cleveland is the armpit of the nation.” (This was in 1970.)

My taxi-driving job went downhill after Abbado. A cabbie told me to carry a bat. He said, “A bat isn’t a concealed weapon. It’s legal.” One time I thought I was being followed by robbers. I got boxed in around St. Luke’s Hospital and escaped by going in reverse. Maybe I was imagining it. I was skittish. To understand, you have to have been around in 1970.

My cab stalled at Fairmount Circle. The engine smoked. I left the cab and hitchhiked back to the Noble Road garage. The supervisor said, “You mean you left your cab, son?”

“I knew I could get back here.”

“You mean you left your cab unattended?”

“Yes.”

Dead end.

taxi driver 2

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February 26, 2020   4 Comments

I’VE BEEN DRINKING

My dad admired bankers. In my dad’s pantheon of great Cleveland families, the number one clan was the Bilskys, who started out making bagels, then went into medicine (#1 son), bowling alleys (#2 son, Mayflower Lanes, Cedar Center), and ultimately started a bank (#3 son, Metropolitan Savings). My grandmother used to say “The Bilskys make big bagels out of little bagels.”

Scott Bilsky — who is a young man — called my klezmer band to book us for a temple event. He said 12 Bilskys would be at the event. Dr. Harold Bilsky (#1 son)? Nope. He died in 2007. Harold had grown up with my dad on Kinsman. Leo (#2 son) wouldn’t be there either. He had died in 1998. I asked Scott. “What about the banker [#3 son]?”

“That’s my grandfather Marvin, He’ll be there.” Marvin was 90.  (This was in 2011.) At the temple gig, I cornered Marvin during the band’s break to schmooze. He told me, “Everything I ever did began with a B — baker, banker and builder.” I already knew that. “And brewer,” he said. That, I didn’t know.

Bilsky, a brewski?

Marvin said, “My father bought Cleveland-Sandusky Brewing in 1955. There were very few Jews involved in the brewing business. In the 1960s, Israel came to us for brewing tips and equipment.” Bilsky bottled Gold Bond beer and Olde Timers Ale. Marvin said there had only been five Cleveland breweries in the 1950s: Bilsky, Carlings from Canada (“very nice people”); Standard Brewing, Erin Brew (Irish); Leisy’s (German); and Pilsener’s P.O.C. (Czech). “We all used to meet on Mondays. I didn’t have any trouble with anybody,” Marvin said.

I didn’t know about breweries and still don’t. My father rarely drank; it would have interfered with his worrying. (A Jewish joke.) I knew something about Carlings from Cleveland Indians’ broadcasts; that was about it. I drink a Miller Lite once in a while now. I’m mostly a seltzer guy. Bilsky’s brewery was a blip in the Bilsky family history. Move on to the main subject, coconut bars . . .

The preeminent Bilsky business was Bilsky’s Bakery, which started on Kinsman Road and moved to Cedar Center in 1948. Who invented the Cleveland coconut bar? I should have asked Marvin Bilsky. I didn’t. I called Marvin the next day and said, “Marvin, this is Bert Stratton from Yiddishe Cup, the klezmer band. We played for your family.”

“Thanks for the concert last night. You did as well as you could,” he said. “No, seriously, we enjoyed it. And to answer your question, I’ve always said my father invented 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. Where did they get them? Maybe from England. Australia used to be part of England.” [Australians call coconut bars lamingtons.]

“Marvin, I have a friend, Seth, his grandfather was a Kritzer of Kritzer Bakery on Kinsman. Seth says his grandfather invented the coconut bar.”

“It was my father!” Marvin said, groaning. “Who knows.”

I dialed my cousin George, whose father had owned Heights Baking on Coventry. George said his father didn’t  invent the coconut bar, but hey, maybe. Scott Raab, a former Clevelander, 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.’”

Nowadays Seth buys his coconut bars at Davis Bakery. I get mine at Zagara’s grocery store. I once asked the Zagara’s clerk where the grocery store got their bars, but the clerk didn’t know. I even looked at the shipping box, which was unmarked.

I invented the coconut bar.

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January 15, 2020   2 Comments

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PUTT PUTT?

My son Teddy had his birthday party at Putt-Putt on Northfield Road in 1990. I think that’s the last time I played Putt-Putt — official Putt-Putt. There are only 23 Putt-Putt courses in the United States.

There was a Chinese miniature golf course on Libby Road at Broadway Avenue. It had a Buddha that went up and down. My high school friends and I couldn’t get enough of that course.

Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf  . . .  Just had to say that.

I would like to live long enough to play Putt-Putt with my grandchildren. First, I need grandchildren. I want to stay healthy enough to bend down and pick up the ball. That’s the hardest part of miniature golf.

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January 1, 2020   3 Comments

THE MICKEY KATZ NON-MOVIE

Eric Krasner wanted to make a movie about Mickey Katz, the Cleveland-born klezmer clarinetist and comedian. Eric came to Cleveland from Atlanta to look around. He wanted to see where Mickey was born, and where Mickey’s wife grew up, and where Mickey’s father’s tailor shop had been. I said, “I’m not a filmmaker — and I don’t want to tell you what to do — but if you want another opinion, I don’t think you should show every place Mickey took a shit.”

1959 album

1959 album

Eric and I visited the Euclid Avenue Temple (now Liberty Hill Baptist Church), where Mickey was married in 1930. Eric filmed the men’s room and said, “This is where Mickey urinated after his wedding.” Eric asked me why Katz (1909-1985) wasn’t more acclaimed in Cleveland. For one thing, Mickey is not well-known here. He’s not Bob Feller or Superman, or Pekar.

Eric and I went to Glenville, an East Side neighborhood where Mickey spent his teenage years. We found the Glenville Hall of Fame but no Mickey plaque. At Katz’s birthplace, near East 51st and Woodland, Eric drew a sign, “Birthplace of Mickey Katz 1909,” and hung it on a fence and filmed the sign.

Eric announced on Facebook he is giving up on the Mickey Katz film. Mickey’s son Joel Grey has declined to participate in Eric’s film, and that’s a big neg. The movie is toyt.

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July 17, 2019   3 Comments

STANDING IN LINE AT THE BMV

Do I get new plates or keep my 2003 Ohio bicentennial plates?

Whichever is easiest.

Entering the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, I had Harvey Pekar-level anxiety. But I lucked out; I was a plate transfer, not a new driver’s license, so I got to skip to the head of the line.

I had bought a Subaru Legacy and sold my Ford Fusion. Both cars are red, so nobody knows I have a new car. A disappointment. I wanted a blue car, but the Subaru Legacy doesn’t come in blue. I refuse to drive gray, silver, black or white. I miss the purple on the Plymouth Duster.

I was in and out of the BMV in 15 minutes. Can you beat that? I accidentally left one of my plates on the counter and a clerk ran out, yelled “sir” at me, and handed me the plate. I said to her, “At least I got you outside! Thanks.” It was 20 degrees and snowing. She said, “I don’t want to be outside.” The BMV. I miss Harvey Pekar.

klezmer plate

Not my plate, btw.

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March 13, 2019   3 Comments

BIG NAMES

Howard Metzenbaum was a big name in my father’s generation. Metzenbaum made millions in parking lots, and eventually became a U.S. senator. My father and Metzenbaum were born the same year, 1917, in Cleveland. My dad didn’t know Metzenbaum but enjoyed following his career.

Metzenbaum, in his later years, owned a condo at Three Village, the holy of holies for upscale living on East Side Cleveland. The building went up in 1978 near Cedar Road at I-271. The Three Village condo development was wooded and secluded. My parents lived nearby, at the Mark IV apartments (now called the Hamptons). My parents liked brand-new housing; they weren’t keen on used. Everything had to be shiny and new, maybe because they grew up in poverty.

Across from the Mark IV was Acacia on the Green — a step up, rent- and prestige-wise, from the Mark IV. Next to Acacia was Sherri Park, a step down. Across from Sherri Park was Point East, a step up from Acacia but down from Three Village. These buildings all went up in the 1970s and were popular with my parents’ generation.

three village

My parents never went inside Metzenbaum’s building. I did. I visited a rich friend who bought a condo in Three Village. Metzenbaum was long gone — dead as of 2008. The building’s buzzer directory read Maltz, Mandel, Ratner, Risman, Weinberger and Wuliger.

Maybe you have to be an old Cleveland Jew to appreciate that. If you’re not an old Cleveland Jew and have read this far, please explain why.

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March 6, 2019   11 Comments