For Cleveland Jews, Schvitz Is Must

No Good Excuse for Avoiding Bathhouse in Lousy Nabe

Boys in the Schvitz: Bert Stratton, center, shown with his band, explains why you are a disgrace to male Cleveland Jewry if you haven’t been to the Schvitz.
Charles J. Mintz
Boys in the Schvitz: Bert Stratton, center, shown with his band, explains why you are a disgrace to male Cleveland Jewry if you haven’t been to the Schvitz.

By Bert Stratton

Published March 07, 2012, issue of March 16, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

If you’re a Cleveland Jewish man and have never been to The Schvitz, you are a disgrace. Real Cleveland Jewish men will regularly malign you, impugning your Jewish bona fides.

The Schvitz is at East 116 Street and Luke, off Kinsman Road (a lousy neighborhood). The Schvitz has no sign.
The Schvitz’s official name is something like the Mt. Pleasant Russian-Turkish Baths. Some people call it the Bathhouse. Some people call it the Temple of the Holy Steam.

Most people call it The Schvitz. It has photos of Mussolini, Dayan and Patton on the walls. That’s it for decorations.

There are three acceptable responses to “Have you ever been to The Schvitz?” a) I held my stag there. b) I was there with my father. c) My grandfather took me there.

Read all the Forward’s special coverage of Cleveland, including Cleveland Rocks — Not Really, Harvey Pekar’s Ode to Cleveland, Sweating in the Cleveland Schvitz

The Big Five Russian or Turkish-style schvitzes are in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland. I got this list from Billy Buckholtz, the pleytse guy at the Cleveland schvitz. Billy’s grandfather was the original pleytse guy. (Pleytse is the rubdown traditionally done with a broom of soaked oak leaves. Buckholtz uses a seaweed broom and horsehair brush.)

Cleveland isn’t coed. Most of the other schvitzes are. The Detroit schvitz even used to have an orgy night. The Cleveland schvitz never went coed (aside from a short experiment in the 1970s), because the neighborhood is so bad. Why encourage women to come to Kinsman?

Ralph Solonitz

In The Schvitz’s heyday, it catered to immigrant factory workers who dropped in after work “to get the creosote off their skin, knock down a few shots and get a pleytse,” Buckholtz said. “The immigrants didn’t want to wait in line with their eight kids for the only bathtub at their house.” Billy told me all this at a Yiddishe Cup gig at an art gallery, not at The Schvitz.

I’m not crazy about steam.

I get periodic Schvitz invitations from the Brothers in Perspiration, an ad-hoc group of Cleveland Heights Jews. The email subject line reads, “Have a serious jones for the stench of sweat, mildew, steak, cigar, garlic?” That sounds good, except for the cigar, sweat, mildew and steam.

I’m due back at The Schvitz. My bona fides. My bona fides….

Bert Stratton is the leader of Yiddishe Cup, a klezmer band.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.