Lone Stars of David: ‘The Immigrant’: from czarist Russia to small-town Texas

By Laurie Barker James
“The Immigrant,” by Texas actor/writer Mark Harelik, tells the story of Jewish immigrant Haskell Harelik, who fled the pogroms of czarist Russia shortly before the Russian Revolution. Harelik’s grandfather Haskell arrived in Texas in 1909 during the “Galveston movement,” and pushed his fruit cart into the tiny Baptist community of Hamilton, Texas. Harelik fortuitously knocked on the right door, and was given shelter by the town’s banker and his wife. Eventually, Harelik impressed the couple with his hard work, and they backed him in his business ventures. He brought his wife from Russia, raised a family and made Hamilton his home.
The play, and the musical Harelik subsequently wrote, were inspired by photographs from a Harelik family album. Over the past two decades, both have been performed literally thousands of times on stages across the country, including several runs on and off Broadway.
Last year, Fort Worth’s Stage West staged the musical version of “The Immigrant.” This Sunday, Aug. 17, Stage West presents a concert version of their production during the 12th annual Jewish Arts Fest of Dallas at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.
Judy Cohn, the JCC’s cultural programs director, produces the annual Jewish Arts Fest. This year’s theme is
“Discover and Celebrate Jews of the Lone Star State,” and Cohn thought that the theme of the play was a perfect match. She remembered the Stage West production and approached the company about producing the show for the Jewish Arts Fest.
“They’re producing a concert version of the musical,” Cohn says. “The actors will be accompanied by musicians, but there’s no set.”
The extended family of “The Immigrant” includes Hareliks, Siegels and Novits scattered throughout north and central Texas. Most of them have seen the play more than once. Harry Harelik is the son of Haskell’s oldest child, Sam. Harry said that Haskell and his wife, Matley, had three sons. Sam and Louis are now deceased. Milton Harelik, now in his 80s, is Haskell’s sole surviving son and is Mark Harelik’s father. Milton still lives in the same homestead in Hamilton.
“I left Hamilton to go into the service,” Milton says. “But I wandered back.” He has lived in the house since he returned from a stint in Hutchinson, Kan., where his first wife, Geraldine, passed away. He shares the
Hamilton house, built by Haskell and Matley, with his second wife, Dorothy.
Harry was contacted by the JCC’s Judy Cohn, and said it was a surprise that the family’s story would prove to be so interesting to so many. He has the unusually difficult task of coordinating arrangements so that all available Harelik descendents can sit next to each other at the show next Sunday.
Haskell’s sister Hanna (who became known as “Annie”) also emigrated from Russia, along with her husband, Velvel “Wolf” Novit. Jan Siegel Hart, who is Annie’s granddaughter, says that her grandfather Velvel and grand-uncle Haskell left the old country before they could be conscripted into the czar’s army. At that time, Hart says, Russian Jews were forced to the front lines of the army, and used as “cannon fodder.”
Velvel Novit, Hart’s grandfather, actually came to the U.S. first, avoiding the conscription notice which would have meant certain death for a Russian Jew. Haskell followed soon after, bringing Velvel’s wife, Annie, and daughter, Fannie.
“Family legend says Haskell was a ‘rabble-rouser,’” Hart says. Apparently, Haskell must have been attending anti-czarist meetings, and was hustled out of the country “before he got into trouble.”
After Mark Harelik wrote “The Immigrant,” he encouraged Hart to chronicle her grandmother’s history. Hart tells the story of Annie in her book “Hanna the Immigrant,” and has told her mother’s stories in “The Many Adventures of Minnie.” The common theme running through both Mark Harelik’s play and Jan Siegel Hart’s books is one of growing up in the only Jewish family in a non-Jewish town.
Many of Haskell’s descendents are involved in Texas Jewish history. Harry Harelik, Milton and Dorothy Harelik and Jan Siegel Hart and her husband, Charles, are all members of the Texas Jewish Historical Society.
Jan is also active in telling the history of both her family and Jews who immigrated through the “Galveston movement.”
Hart credits the support and encouragement of legendary Rabbi Henry Cohen for the successes of her family and others who came through Galveston. Rabbi Cohen was a central figure in the movement that sought to route Eastern European Jews fleeing persecution away from the crowded cities on the East Coast of America.
And Hart and Harry Harelik are involved in keeping the history of the Galveston movement alive. The events of immigration into Galveston will be chronicled next year with an exhibition at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. “Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island” will explore the dramatic story of Galveston as a significant transoceanic port of immigration into Texas and America between the middle 1800s through 1924. The exhibit will include pictures and information from both the Novit and Harelik families’ albums and memoirs.
“The Immigrant” shows at 12:30 p.m. Harry Harelik calls Stage West’s production “one of the best.” Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. There are no reserved seats, so plan to come early. Cohn says that the concert hall at the Meyerson, which seats about 200, will be opened shortly before the 12:30 start time.
“If you come early enough, you could get a chance to sit in the box seats, where Ross Perot usually sits,” Cohn says.
The Arts Fest, which runs from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., highlights Jewish culture, including music, fine art, crafts and Judaica, children’s activities and delicious kosher food.
The Jewish Community Center of Dallas and Gold Metal Recyclers present
The 12th Annual Jewish Arts Fest of Dallas “Discover and Celebrate Jews of the Lone Star State”
Schedule of Events
Listen for the sound of the shofar announcing performances
Musical Performances – Main Stage
Mistress of Ceremonies – Linda Leonard
10:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Hot Peas ‘N Butter
A Multi-Cultural Family Concert with Danny Lapidus and Fransisco Cotto
Even if your kids don’t like peas, there’s no way they can resist this Nickelodeon and Noggin’ Channel favorite! Parents and grandparents will love them too as they sing in many languages including Hebrew, Spanish and more! For kids ages 2-10
12:30 – 2 p.m.
Stage West presents
“The Immigrant” – A New American Musical in concert
“The Immigrant,” based on the lives of playwright Mark Harelik’s grandparents, tells the story of a young Jewish immigrant who settled in Hamilton, Texas in 1909, and the local couple who befriended him. It is a true story of parents, children, Christians and Jews, and the realization of the American dream! It touches the heart, glows with humor and soothes the ear.– NY Times
4 – 5:30 p.m.
David Ross – The New Sound
in Jewish Music
An eclectic mix of R & B, Rock & Soul!
Joined by his 8-piece band, this electrifying performer, formerly with the a cappella group Kol Zimra, will delight you with his rich voice, evocative lyrics, powerful instrumentation and driving rhythms. Area youth choirs join David for a rousing finale you won’t want to miss!
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.    Art, Crafts, Jewelry Exhibition and Sale
Featuring select artists from the U. S. and Israel
(Lower Level)
Host: Jerome Stein
11:15 a.m.
Hollace Weiner, author “Deep in the Heart of Texas Jewry”
2:15 p.m.
Sherry Zander, author / artist / photographer
Little Gems of Beauty & Historical Insight: A Historical Photographic Presentation
3:15 p.m.
Ginger Jacobs, Dallas Native Pioneers & More: The Dallas Jewish Story
(East Lobby)
From the archives of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society
A Traveling Exhibit Courtesy of
the Texas Jewish Historical Society
Photographs Courtesy of the Meyerson Family
KIDZ KINGDOM – Lower Lobby
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Creative crafts * Community Art Project *
Face Painting by Karen Weiss
Photo Magnets, Video Flip Books, Wax Hands by Mikey B.
12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Torah Time Puppet Theatre / Sing-A-Long
Mike Wurzman & Rabbi Adam Raskin
Noon – 4 p.m.
Handwriting Analysis – Main Lobby
Shawn Mash / Professional Dynamics
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Photos by GladTower Live Productions – Main Lobby
GladTower is offering ONE FREE PHOTO.
Additional photos at $10 each will benefit the JCC.
11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Food Court – Simcha Kosher Catering – West Lobby
Burgers & Hot Dogs * Sandwiches
Israeli Plate * Desserts * Drinks
As you dine, be entertained by
A GOOD NOISE, an acoustic folk/pop duo consisting of Tiger Darrow and Josh Goldberg
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Synagogue and Organization Fair – Loge Level
Visit booths and find out what all of the Jewish organizations and synagogues in and around Dallas have to offer.

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