A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How Hava Nagila Became So Universal

Of course I've heard Hava Nagila played at Jewish weddings, but I've also heard it at Polish Catholic weddings and, well, anytime people are happy and want to dance. This article's almost two weeks old, from The Forward, but it addresses the question of "How 'Hava Nagila' Became a Global Hit."  Better late than never.

Though the tune originated in Ukraine, there's a distinctly Middle Eastern link to its becoming famous:
According to an article by music scholar James Loeffler on the song’s “long, strange trip,” “Hava Nagila” became an overnight hit among Jews of the Yishuv after it was played in a 1918 concert celebrating the defeat of the Ottoman Turks by British forces in World War I. It quickly became a staple of Zionist culture in pre-state Israel, and traveled across the ocean to enter the folk song repertoire of American Jewry. Referred to simply as a “Palestinian” or “Hebrew” folk song, it appeared in children’s songbooks and was recorded by cantors and folk music performers. By the 1940s it could be heard at almost every bar mitzvah and Jewish wedding.
I'd like to know mode about that 1918 concert. The article deals with a film on the song, and maybe that would shed some light.

By now, a lot of you (perhaps not in the Arab world so much) probably are already doomed to go through the day with Hava Nagila running through your heads. If you aren't there yet, how about this venerable video from the Forward website of Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte (whose version helped popularize in the US, at least among Gentiles):

And, though the singer Dalida was born in Egypt of Italian parents and spent much of her career in France, she enjoyed great popularity in the Arab world (and was once Miss Egypt), so her version may be appropriate:

Okay, now get it out of your head. And be happy. Ba-lev sameach!

UPDATE: Okay, they keep coming in. First, via a commenter, a Bollywood version:

Then, a Texas version. Don't be deterred by the beginning; the fiddling in the hoedown version begins well into the piece:


Mel said...

Here's a Bollywood version from 1965 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SphNThRnOU

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Universal indeed.