Hava Nagila: The Movie

The song you thought you knew ….the story you won’t believe!

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts presents Hava Nagila: The Movie, a slight, but very satisfying, and at times, surprisingly moving documentary about the inescapable Jewish anthem and wedding and bar mitzvah staple. However, there is much more to Hava. Nagila than meets the ear.

The song is a portal into a century and a half of Jewish history from a Ukranian niggun ( a wordless prayer) wending its way from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the kibbutzim of Palestine to the cul-de-sacs of America. It is much more than Jewish kitsch, it carries with it an entire constellation of values and hopes for the future. Hava Nagila reveals the power of one song to express and sustain identity, to transmit lessons across generations, and to bridge cultural divides. It is a profound tapping into universal themes about the importance of joy, the power of music, and the resilient spirit of a people.

Find out how this song went from the Ukraine where it began to You Tube. It shows up in films such as Thoroughly Modern Millie, Wedding Crashers, Daddy Day Care, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Simpsons; as well as Raisin in the Sun and True Grit. Bruce Springstein featured it in a concert, Glen Campbell included it on the second side of a single, Chubby Checker twisted to it, and Lena Horne adapted it for her powerful civil rights anthem.

Instrumental in introducing it to an American audience were Connie Francis, an Italian Catholic who included it in her bestselling album, Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites, and Harry Belafonte movingly recalled singing the song in Germany.

It is not just a song, it’s an event, as suggested by Josh Kun, one of the academics who speaks on the mystery, history, and meaning of Hava Nagila. It’s a a song that screams, “This is a Jewish song.” Not everyone is happy about that. Henry Sapoznik,founder of KlezKamp,a Yiddish folk arts program, remarks, “It’s relentless, resilient, but so are cockroaches. It represents for multitudes of people Jewish music and that’s all that they will ever know.”

Inevitably, Hava Nagila became a target for spoof and parodies and ultimately outright scorn by a new generation attempting to take Jewish music into the 21st century. But Hava Nagila endures as an immediate connection to tradition and community. “What says Jewish more at a celebration,” says Jewish Community Arts Coordinator, Phyllis Wang, “than a spontaneous musical eruption into Hava Nagila and its unprompted endless circle of dancers joining in a Hora.” Its lyrics speak of rejoicing, and throughout Jewish history, the song has been the best and most defiant answer to oppression and misery.

Hava Nagila: The Movie is a moving documentary about the inescapable Jewish anthem. Panel discussion and dessert reception will follow. $5 donation is requested. Sunday, May 1, 7 p.m., Temple Sinai, 509 Broadway. Call 518 584 8730 option 2 for information or reservations.