Busking in Israel and elsewhere

Busking is a British term. In the Midwest, in Ohio, we say “playing on the street.” Kind of awkward, but we don’t want to sound British.

In the 1990s, several Yiddishe Cup musicians played on the streets in downtown Cleveland and made nothing. Security guards shooed us away from Higbee’s department store and the Arcade entrance.

Our parking expenses were more than what we made. Then we ate out and lost even more money.

We were certainly contributing. We were putting the viva back in vivacity.

The bus exhaust stunk. The passersby ignored us — except for the bums, who ogled our money pot. Our gelt was immense (at not giving the bums our money).


I have “busked” played on the streets abroad. (Northern Mexico, 2008, for one.) In 2006 I made 16 shekels ($4) on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. I had my axe with me in Israel, so why not play for my people?

My people wanted Dixieland! “The Saints Go Marching In” was killer. A charedi boy kept asking for it. I tried klezmer but that didn’t sell, except for “Anim Zemiros” (Song of Glory).

The tzedakah collectors eyed my coins. Again, awkward. Give it up for the charedim.


About the Author
Bert Stratton is a musician and landlord in Cleveland, Ohio. He is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. Byliner chose his essay "The Landlord's Tale" as one of the best magazine articles of 2012. He blogs at "Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate."