Friday, September 21, 2012

‘Hava Nagila’: From Ukraine To YouTube

New reflections on a classic grown old.
In the 1950s, "Hava Nagila," already a hit at Jewish celebrations,
became a crossover hit for singers such as Harry Belafonte.
The beauty of downtown’s Museum of Jewish Heritage is that it is of a piece. To get to its newest exhibit, “Hava Nagila: A Song of the People,” wander through other rooms: Ukrainian shtetl life, old Kiddush cups and white kittle gowns; photos from a Displaced Persons camp; escape to the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-state Israel). Wander, then, into the “Hava Nagila” room and the song is understood with a poignancy long ago lost.

After all, “Hava Nagila” (“Let Us Rejoice”) was not born in raucous catering halls but in the 1800s, in Sadigura, a Ukrainian chasidic shtetl, as a wordless meditative melody. Words and a hora were added in the Yishuv, and it was danced to in the DP camps, an expression of hope and energy in a world that seemed to have neither. Refugees and Zionists brought it to the United States, and “Hava Nagila” soared to popularity in mid-century, only to leave home, lost to parody, kitsch and cliché.

Here, though, a visitor suddenly hears the old song in a new way. -- Jonathan Mark, NY Jewish Week

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