Hava Nagila

The song you thought you knew. The story you won't believe.

Poster art for Hava NagilaThough perhaps best known to recent generations as that infectious, hora-accompanied staple of bar mitzvahs and Jewish weddings, the popular song ‘Hava Nagila’ has a significant 150-year history that’s warmly tracked by director-producer Roberta Grossman, with an assist from writer-producer Sophie Sartain.

Grossman’s so-called Hava quest takes her from the iconic song’s birthplace in Sadagora, Ukraine (where it was first sung in the mid-1800s as a wordless prayer, or nigun) to Israel, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and elsewhere. En route, she chats with academics, rabbis, historians, musicians and others who help flesh out this musical tale in largely chronological fashion.

It’s a fun, nostalgic, informative journey. Aided by vivid archival footage and photos, the movie charts the evolution of the song through the Holocaust, the birth of Israel and the modern Jewish Diaspora.

But it’s the flashbacks of Hava Nagila in a startling variety of movies and TV shows – plus on countless cover recordings by such diverse artists as Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Johnny Yune and Regina Spektor (all enjoyably interviewed here) – that truly make this valentine sing.

– Gary Goldstein, The Los Angeles Times

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