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Hava Nagila: The Song We Love To Hate

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 12:00 AM

A hora dance forming at the wedding of David G. Marwell and Judy Eisenstein in Mount Kisco, NY, 1973 (David G. Marwell/Museum of Jewish Heritage)

When Ellen and I were getting married, we quickly determined that the only thing we were really going to have any control over was the music. Everything else was gonna be up to her mom, with perhaps some suggestions/interference from my parents. So we figured, at least the music at our wedding won't suck.

We found and hired a really good jazz band that we'd seen at the West End Cafe. They asked what we wanted them to play, and I believe the first thing I blurted out was, "anything but 'Hava Nagila' and 'The Alley Cat'."

See, I grew up thinking that "Hava Nagila" was just another stupid wedding song.  I had no idea, until the Museum For Jewish Heritage began its exhibit "Hava Nagila: A Song For the People," that the song had played a role in the early Zionist movement that created the state of Israel, or that it became a civil rights anthem in the early 60s.  It is, as we hear from the exhibit's curator, a pretty interesting story. 

Anyway, the guys in our band seemed relieved and happy to be told that the usual wedding Playlist From Hell would not be required of them, and for a good half hour at our reception, they fought the good fight. But eventually, a splinter cell of guests wore them down, and some appalling hora dancing ensued.  And as night follows day, "Hava Nagila" led directly into, yes, "The Alley Cat."

I still hate "Hava Nagila."

What do you think of "Hava Nagila?"  Love it or hate it?  Leave a comment

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