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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.

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.


Category — Family History, Not Boring


My cousin Bill is a big fan of Yiddishe Cup.  I’m five years older than him, so whatever I say goes, and I say, “Like my band.”

Bill flew Yiddishe Cup to Atlanta for his son’s bar mitzvah party.  (Note: my cousin Margie brought Yiddishe Cup to Kansas City for her four kids’ simchas.  Margie is also younger than me.)

We cousins usually meet up at simchas and funerals. One time, though, Bill came up to Cleveland on biz, and we weren’t at a simcha or funeral.  What to do?  Where was the smoked fish?

We went out to a Korean restaurant and a cemetery on the West Side.  The restaurant was across the street from where our grandparents were buried.

The cemetery was closed, so we crawled underneath the iron grating and looked around in the near twilight for our grandparents’ graves.

A security guard with a German shepherd approached.

I said to the man, “I know you’re closed, but my cousin came all the way from Georgia.”

The guard asked, “Are you Polish?”

“No, Jewish,” I said.

“That’s the right answer,” he said.  It was like a World War II checkpoint scene.  He let us stay.  (There had been vandalism at various West Side Jewish cemeteries.)


A friend, living in Israel, came home to Cleveland to bury his mother.  He had nowhere convenient to sit shiva, so he rented a room at an I-271 hotel.

He hung around that room for a couple days.  Visitors knocked on the door, which was kept ajar, to announce themselves.  Ten Jews in a suite, chanting Hebrew prayers, was mystical and somewhat subversive.

My friend left after three days.  It was no picnic, that hotel, except for the picnic I brought in: $204  of kosher chicken Marsala and sides, from Norman the caterer.  (Norman is not his real name).

Norman, years ago at a gig, had thrown dirty plates all over the kitchen floor at the auto museum.  So many plates, we couldn’t roll our carts over the jumble.  It was like a Greek party center at 4 a.m.

When a wedding client called and asked about Norman, I said, “I wouldn’t use him.” Then she promptly told Norman.

It was just business, Norman! It wasn’t loshn hora (evil gossip).

Norman said the messy gig had been his first off-premises catering job. I hadn’t known that.  I told him I wouldn’t bad-rap him again.

So I dropped $204 on Norman for hot food.  Everything is kosher between us now.  He is a good experienced caterer.

My cousin Margie is coming to Cleveland next week to visit.  Where’s the food?  What to do?  Crawl under a cemetery fence in Parma?

1 of 2 posts for 7/14/10.  Please see the post below too.

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July 14, 2010   6 Comments


My father, Toby, said he 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 the family.  My mother said no.  The writer persisted, because years prior Toby had found the editor a moonlighting job.  The editor had written the in-house newsletter for the key company where my dad had worked.

No again, my mother said.

Toby wound up in the Cleveland Jewish News. That was OK.  Not too many IRS agents read that.

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. 1941.

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.” J. Alvin Kugelmass.]   Some of the impetus was anti-Semitism and some was 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.  “You’re looking for trouble!  Don’t do it!”

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

“He was my father.”

“I left town in 1941,” the man said, his eyes focused 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 info.

For years a Soltzberg uncle had told me Toby had jumped ship because my mother had wanted to “pass.”

I liked the right-in-my-apartment story better.
1 of 2 posts for 9/16/09.  Please see post below too.

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September 16, 2009   7 Comments