5/1/13: Click HERE for an updated version of this review on the JUF website timed to this Friday’s opening in the Metro Chgo market. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
Roberta Grossman’s terrifically edited & thoroughly enjoyable doc takes something you thought you already knew & turns it inside out. The song “Hava Nagila” was born in Ukraine, nurtured in Israel, and came to full force in America, which then sent it out into the world. Modern Jewish History has rarely been so well-taught: we laughed (a lot), we sniffled (a little) & we had a great time! Click HERE for our FF2 haiku.
What do Harry Belafonte (a Caribbean-American guy from Harlem, NY) and Connie Francis (an Italian-American gal from Newark, NJ) have in common with Glen Campbell (a Scottish-American guy from Pike County, Arkansas)…? They all recorded covers of the Jewish kitsch classic Hava Negila! In Hebrew yet!! Nu, so what else is new?!?
In her delightful new doc Hava Negila: The Movie, director Roberta Grossman and her key collaborators (including writer Sophie Sartain and editor Chris Callister) tell the story of this simcha staple (Bar Mitzvahs! Weddings!! Declarations of Independence!!!) in the form of a biography with giddy intertitles like “When Hava Met Hora.” It would all be way too much if it weren’t so damn well done.
Hava Negila: The Movie is a masterful synthesis of scholarship and chutzpah, with just the right combination of history, politics and religion. Grossman’s team has assembled a treasure trove of films clips which they stitch together with dazzling dexterity. There is literally never a dull moment–even when the clips are black and white, they’re still amazingly colorful.
It turns out that the tune that became “Hava Nagila” started life as a Ukrainian niggun, but when halutzim in the Yishuv needed Hebrew songs for the kids in the kindergarden…
OK, I’ll back up: a “niggun” is a wordless prayer (like the the biddy biddy bums and daidle deedle dums Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof). The people who left the Pale of Settlement to become pioneers (halutzim) in British Palestine (the Yishuv) thought they’d left religion behind in the Old Country. But then Hava met Hora, and here we are.
I won’t spoil the story by giving away plot points. I’ll just tell you to see it for yourself. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did!
Click HERE for an audio-only version of Allan Sherman singing “Harvey & Sheila” from his 1963 LP My Son, The Celebrity. This is just an aural tickle. To see more, you’ll have to watch the film 😉
Photo Credit © Jenny Jimenez/Courtesy of Katahdin Productions