This is my attempt at blogging. I'm still learning about the blogging world, and this is my own personal study hall.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hava Nagilah

It appears that Hava Nagilah is now going mainstream. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ll share some bits of an email conversation I had yesterday with a friend. For purposes of full disclosure, I ought to tell you that I am Orthodox, having grown up in a mainly Orthodox home, although my extended family (nearly all my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) are not Orthodox. A few are not in any way religious, some are intermarried, and the rest are about evenly split between Reform and Conservative, either by affiliation or by practice. So I’ve always felt that, although I’m Orthodox and I see the world through that lens, I am open and understanding to other points of view. My friend is not Orthodox. Because I do not want to risk misrepresenting his views, I will leave it at that.

Here is (part of) our conversation, (almost) unedited:

date Dec 18, 2007 10:54 PM
subject hava

date Dec 19, 2007 11:26 AM
subject Re: hava
I watched it last night. I have no idea what to make of it. I thought I’d sleep on it, but I’m still confused.

date Dec 19, 2007 11:32 AM
subject Re: hava
ha what don’t you understand?

date Dec 19, 2007 11:36 AM
subject Re: hava
let me first ask you - what do you think of it?

date Dec 19, 2007 12:41 PM
subject Re: hava
Well to be honest many thoughts come to mind. But i guess on a superficial level, the girl is attractive but really young, wow. But I guess the song isn’t too bad, though I’m not sure if I like the English that was added into the song. It’s nice to have a jewish song beat out Christmas songs and on Christmas even too. And I guess I’m a bit perplexed as to why a father would endorse such promotion of one’s daughter through sexualization.


date Dec 19, 2007 1:18 PM
subject Re: hava
OK, so let me ask you a couple follow-up questions. What do you think of the song Hava Nagilah in general? Was it played at your Bar Mitzvah? Why or why not? Do you generally expect it to be played at Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties or Jewish weddings? Why or why not?

I’m not sure how people of different demographics view the song. I know how I view it, but my view could be tainted by my presumption about how others view it.

Dec 19, 2007 1:35 PM
subject Re: hava
Okay…well I don’t really have many thoughts about the original song in general. Yes it was played at my Bar Mitzvah and all Jewish formal parties I’ve been to. Yes I expect it to be played.

date Dec 19, 2007 2:02 PM
subject Re: hava
At your Bar Mitzvah, did you particularly want it to be played? It was not played at my Bar Mitzvah, nor any Orthodox Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties or weddings I’ve ever been too. The only time I’ve ever heard it played was for little kids at JCC camps/day care, at non-Orthodox events, and when the Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts of the world use it to mock Judaism. Orthodox Jews have a wide array of Jewish music. There’s just now beginning to grow a Jewish music scene that is not exclusively Orthodox. But this is very new.

So what I’m confused about, I guess, is whether to be excited about this, or nervous about it. Will it excite more Jews who would otherwise be alienated? Or will it reinforce the negative stereotype that Jewish events - Bar Mitzvah parties, especially - suck unless they’ve got some really cool theme and cost half a million dollars?

At [a recent Bar Mitzvah] party they had a DJ and dance troop with strobe lights and whatever else. First they started out playing Hava Nagilah and some other sucky Jewish songs, and the grown ups danced in a “hora” of sorts while the kids looked bored out of their minds. After about 10 minutes, the DJ announces, “Alright, now let’s have some fun!!” and plays Hip Hop, Techno and House music for the next 3 hours.

Everyone recognizes that Hava Nagilah is a crappy song, which is why Orthodox Jews don’t play it at their functions. But Orthodox Jews have a long history of Jewish music, and it’s really grown over the past 30 years in particular. Now Conservative singers are becoming more interested in making Jewish music with a mainstream sound, but it’s still in its infancy.

Will this become mainstream? Will Jay Leno make fun of it (and her)? Will it pop and fade? Will it last? Does anyone else care?

Dec 19, 2007 2:12 PM
subject Re: hava
All good thoughts. I didn’t realize that Othodox events were different really. And I didn’t know that they don’t play Hava Negila.
All the events I’ve been to that have been conservative events were different than what you described [about the Bar Mitzvah]. Usually from what I’ve seen the Hora/Hava Negila gets a great reaction from the crowd and is usually one of the more popular songs/events during the evening.

Dec 19, 2007 2:22 PM
subject Re: hava
Really? I’m surprised to hear that. It’s always been portrayed (in my observation) as 1.a joke/something to make fun of and 2.that annoying song we have to play b/c we’re Jewish.

Daniel:Dec 20, 2007 7:57 AMsubject Re: hava
true story!

So I’m still confused. I asked someone last night, who grew up Conservative but became Orthodox in college, and has been practicing Orthodox Judaism for a number of years what they thought about this conversation I had had with Daniel. They told me that to them, growing up, Hava Nagilah was sometimes that song that is the Jewish thing so we have to play it, and other times it really is a root expression of Judaism so let’s enjoy it. They said Hava Nagilah at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah was like, “eating falafel at the Israel Day celebration at the JCC”.

My take on it is, if my previous perception is correct, that disaffected Jews and non-Jews use it as a point to mock our religion, then, even if this song does become a hit, it could go the way of the Macarena and become fuel to add to that fire of negatively stereotyping the “emptiness” (Chas VeShalom) of Judaism. On the other hand, if people really do identify Jewishly through the song, then the new Pop version of it could further bolster people’s Jewish identity and attract other Jews who were otherwise ambivalent (or worse) about their Jewish roots, by mainstreaming a Jewish cultural phenomenon.

I’m still confused, but at least now I know why. What does everyone else think?


Blogger Just Shu said...

You know they play Hava Negila at every stadium and ball park in the country ..right?

6:44 PM


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