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Immigration in the Arts

Page history last edited by Michelle LeBlanc 15 years, 2 months ago

From: Kristen Blake (Natick) regarding the musical Rags she mentioned on February 25.



The musical, Rags (book by Joseph Stein, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz) is a great fit for the content of the TAH  course.  I haven’t been able to find a movie version, but you may want to use the music or consider coercing your high school theatre department to produce it as an arts/social studies interdisciplinary collaboration.


It’s quite a haunting musical.  Natick High School performed Rags in 1996/7.  Incidentally, Jaclyn Huberman, who played Rebecca in the NHS production went on to win “Broadway Idol 2006.” 


The show summary from Wikipedia is below.  It closely mirrors the story summary written by Stephen Schwartz, lyricist, in the liner notes. 




Here are some of the lyrics from two of the songs. 


I Remember/Greenhorns

Homesick Immigrant: 

“I remember summer evenings

Sitting you and I

While the cranes were calling

In the eastern sky

Sometimes we don’t love things

Till we tell goodbye

Oh, my homeland, my homeland



Cynical Americans:

“Another load of greenhorns

Fresh off the boat

Another wave of refugees

To fill the mills and factories

A little grist

For the capital system

It’s a bunch of greaseballs

Greasin’ the wheels

A little oil for the machine


Let ‘em come

If we can get them while they’re green


Another load of greenhorns

Fresh off the boat

Another load of human dirt

To sew the cuff on every shirt

And help the rise

Of free enterprise

They call ‘em wretched refuse

Take a good whiff

And you’ll discover what they mean


Hebes and wops

But as long as greenhorns

Work the shops

Pick the crops

Eat the slops…”



Rags  (sung by Bella and her father.  Bella works and dies in the Triangle shirtwaist factory)


“This land of freedom we had to run to where

Now we’re just like everyone to wear


It’s all day seeing them, all day smelling them

All day listening to peddlers selling them


Rags, I live in rags

And so I’m right in style

All the while

Sewing, sewing, see us sewing

Hags we turn to hags

It happens bit by bit

Picture it, papa

There I sit

Sewing buttons on rags

Oh, papa, was it so necessary

To cram us onto that stinking ferry

And drag us here to become








One of the Chosen

Scott D. Abrams



I am a Jew.

I look Jewish.

I’m a right-handed Jew with post-nasal drip and hazel eyes,

my mother’s eyes.

I grew up in a town chock full of Jews—

Christmas lights stuck out like tattoos.

When we were all having our Bar Mitzvahs,

some of the goyem were jealous of us.

Imagine…being jealous of the Jews?!!

I have climbed Masada

and eaten honey glazed donuts during Passover.

I have leaned against the Wailing Wall

and slept with shiksas, as Grandma puts it.

I know the Four Questions

six of the Ten Commandments,

I’m not holding my breath for the Messiah

but I am ninety-eight percent chimpanzee—

you can almost make a monkey out of me.

I don’t pray—

to the stars, or to idols, or to the ol’ Smiter himself—

don’t even believe in God.

The downside to being an atheist, though,

is that we don’t have a clubhouse or T-shirts.

I lit a candle for my Uncle who died far too early,

and I pay almost two dollars for an Egg McMuffin.

I had a briss

but was actually circumcised in the hospital.

I believe that on Yom Kippur

a rabbi is like a used car salesman

trying to sell you the same spiel about God’s forgiveness

year after year after year.

I have relatives in Tel Aviv

and stock in AT&T

and ligament damage in both knees

and a six-pack of Catamount Amber in the fridge.

I chanted my torah portion

and I know that E=MC2,

just don’t ask me to explain either one of them.

I was confirmed . . . what’s that all about?

Every year my grandparents ask me

if I went to Temple—

Why should I?

If God’s everywhere, doesn’t He make house calls?

Moses may have split the Red Sea,

but he’d never beat Tiger Woods on the back nine.

I like Moses,

he wore comfortable shoes and a beard,

and he led his people to freedom.

That’s a tough act to follow.

George Washington did it,

Golda Meir led a new Jewish nation,

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led his people

on the road to his dream,

and who can forget Lipps Inc. who led us all to Funkytown.

Confused? Not me.



I am proud

of who I am.

I am the Star of David—

Star of the Maccabees, Albert Einstein, the Rosenbergs.

I am the Star of Begin, Sadat and Carter.

Star of Jacob and Mira Birnbaum.

Star of Anne Frank

and 6 million never forgotten.

I am the Star of Herbert Abramowitz, the grandfather I never met.

I am the Star of Woody Allen and Arthur C. Clark,

Sandy Koufax, “The Diesel” John Riggins, and Muhammad Ali,

I am the Star of Ocean City, Maryland

and steamed blue crabs.

I am the Star of Colby College and Beastly Fridays

(and the hangovers the next morning).

I am the Star of Homer Simpson, Howard Stern and Jerry Seinfeld,

the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers

(even Zeppo).

I am the Star of Emma Thompson and her accent—

the Star of Susan B. Anthony dollars I’ve mistaken for quarters—

I am the Star of everything I know…



I am a Jew.

My history,

whether mythical or real,

is my history.

I don’t recite the Chamotzee over leavened bread,

or grow sideburns like long strands of spiral pasta,

or hang a Mezuzah in my doorway,

or await an afterlife—I wish I did.

I wish I believed I will finally meet my grandfather

and sing with John Lennon.

I’d love to pet my first dog Snoopy again

and kiss Marilyn Monroe.

If I could, I’d haunt TV evangelists, bigots and Yankees fans

and materialize in the dreams of visionaries.

My image would appear alongside Jesus in coffee stains

and Mr. Allen Ginsberg would be waiting with a red pen to edit this poem.



I can’t prove if there is or isn’t a God.

I can’t prove Zeus doesn’t make lightning

or a shaman in west Africa doesn’t make the wind blow

or that my ancestors were common cold germs.

It doesn’t matter—

the only one who controls my life is me (and the I.R.S.).

Someone said you must be the Chosen People

God doesn’t challenge anybody like he challenges the Jews.

There’s something special about being God’s guinea pigs.

As a young Jewish pup I loved to sit on Santa’s lap

and I find that in my mid-twenties I really do say Oy!

I know my parents love me and are terrible golfers

and hope every day I marry a Jewish woman.

Whoever I marry, it will not be because we share faith in God,

it will be because of our faith in ourselves

and because she’ll do wonderful things with her tongue.

Comments (1)

Fabiana Vasconcelos Abrams said

at 8:12 pm on Feb 17, 2009

My husband Scott Abrams is a reformed Jew, but as he likes to explain he is mostly himself. He finished his Master's degree in Writing with poetry, and they are mostly about his family life and his identity as an American Jew. All his poems have a intelligent sense of humor, and it can speak deeply about this immigrant identity so rooted in the history of Jews in America.

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