Aly Raisman, the pride of Needham, Mass., isn’t the only Jewish winner at this week’s London Olympics.
This is also a golden time for Hava Nagila.
Raismam rode – actually jumped and tumbled – her way to a women’s team gold medal by performing her floor exercise routines in both the preliminaries and to the classical-to-the-point-of cliché Jewish melody, which is usually associated with weddings and other simchas.
Hava Nagila was probably never heard by so many people at one time.
The melody was adapted from a wordless Ukrainian dance-song, becoming a popular niggun in some chasidic circles before Abraham Zvi Idelsohn, the European-born father of Jewish musicology put words to it [“Let us rejoice,” based on Psalm 118:24) in1918 to celebrate England’s victory over the Ottoman Empire (rulers of Palestine, where Idelsohn settled) in the First World War and the country’s issuance of the Balfour Declartion.
Within a few years it spread to the U.S. and Europe, where it was sung at Zionist events.
Since then, it’s been performed by such non-Hebraic singers as Harry Belafonte, Chubby Checkers, Lena Horne and Connie Francis. Athletes at past Winter Olympics have done their ice dancing routines to Hava Negila, and bands in such far-flung places as Egypt, Iran, China, India, South Korea, Thailand and Mexico perform it.
This year it’s the subject of a documentary “Hava Nagila (The Movie)” by filmmaker Roberta Grossman that premiered last month at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and of an exhibit that will open next month at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in lower Manhattan.
The only place where you’re not likely to hear Hava Nagila is at weddings in the haredi community; frum couples have other musical preferences. “It is the cliché of Jewish music,” Elly Zomick, leader of the Neshoma Orchestra that performs at many Orthodox weddings, said in a Wall Street Journal article last week.
These days, Hava Nagila is back. Aly Raisman guaranteed that.