hava-nagilaThe Song Everyone Knows
Hava Nagila: The Movie
Narrator: Rusty Schwimmer
Directors/Scriptwriters: Robrta Grossman and Sophie Sartain
Interviews with: Harry Belafonte, Leonard Nimoy, Professor James Loeffler, Hussan Danny Quant, Yisral Friedman, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Moshe Nathanson, Lila Corwin Berman, Regina Specktor , Glen Campbell and Connie Francis
Kathandin Productions
Rating: PG
Running Length: 100 minutes
Is there a song everyone knows? In virtually every country of the world? You bet. According to this documentary by Roberta Grossman and Sophia Sartain, the song is "Hava Nagila." There are humorous moments as the filmmakers traveled to the Ukraine, and Asia and found people on the street who could hum the melody and even part of the lyrics. Why, even the Muppets have performed it. So, the filmmakers began a "Hava Quest."
The song may be considered part of Jewish culture, but tell that to Connie Francis who had a hit album of Hebrew songs (beginning with "Hava Nagila") at the start of her career. Francis, of Italian descent, grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and Hebrew/Yiddish was a second language to her. One of her biggest hits was combining "Hava Nagila" with the song from the film "Exodus, "This Land Is Mine." She was once asked if she had Jewish blood and she replied, "Yes, 10% from my manager."
In an interview with famed actor Leonard Nimoy ("Star Trek"), Nimoy tells of singing this song in a choir as a child.  The famed Vulcan hand gesture came from a Jewish celebration greeting and he decided to use it for Mr. Spock. In another interview, singer/guitar player Glen Campbell does a guitar riff on "Hava Nagila" that rocks the room.
Through the documentary, we learn that no one really knows where the song and lyrics came from, but it is thought that I. Z. Idelsohn along with Cantor Moshe Nathanson put melody and lyrics together at the turn of the 20th century. There are interviews with people on the street in various countries, who, when asked if they know this melody (hummed by the camera people) respond with the rest of the song and title, too. In fact, one of the best renditions in the film is by Asian singer at a party.
Harry Belafonte made the song famous and sung it with actor/singer Danny Kaye on Kaye's television show. Belafonte said two of his most popular requests were "The Banana Boat Song" and "Hava Nagila." Yisral Friedman sums it all up by saying, "There are ten levels of prayer and above them is music."
Part of the documentary tells of the history of the Jewish people (sometimes with humor) from Biblical times to life in Russia to coming to America and living in the suburbs with elaborate Bar Mitzvahs. A tongue-in-cheek mention is made of "How To Be Jewish In The Suburbs."  Number One, Be Happy.  Number Two, Build a Large Synagogue. Number Three is to Have A Party (also singing "Hava Nagila.")
This documentary is rated PG and could be for families, also. Enjoy.
Copyright 2013 Marie Asner
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