MRR Review: "Hava Nagilla"

November 22nd, 2013

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Through the magic and power of cinema, the Youngstown Area Jewish Film Festival provides an annual forum, which enriches, educates and entertains our diverse community about the Jewish experience. The Youngstown Area Jewish Film Festival (YAJFF) is presented by the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation and Youngstown State University's Center for Judaic & Holocaust Studies.


"Hava Nagilla"

‘Hava Nagila’... How could a simple song with simple words have so much impact on the world? Well, in Judaism there are ten levels of prayer and above the tenth is music. 

“Hava Nagila: The Movie” embarks on a quest to find the origin of this Jewish anthem, while telling the story of its impact on the Jewish people, the world, and even pop culture.

“Hava Nagila” has a refreshingly light hearted and humorous tone for a documentary, especially a documentary about Jewish history. But that’s sort of the whole point of the song. Hava Nagila reminds us that we have to earnestly seek out the joy in life. The Jewish people had to find their place in a post Holocaust world, and Hava Nagila kept them looking forward.

Hava Nagila is a song that transcends generations and even transcends faith. Based on a wordless Jewish prayer song, called a Nigun, Hava Nagila has evolved from a prayer to God that cannot be put into words, to an anthem of hope that no matter how dark the night...the sun will still rise.

I was amazed to see the impact that such an overtly ethnic song had on society, around the world, but especially in America. In only a few short decades, the song went from being the Electric Slide of bar mitzvahs, to being a standard cover song for artist as diverse as Chubby Checker and Glen Campbell. Surprisingly, the song was likely made most famous by Harry Belafonte (Banana Boat). Though many say it began to lose its impact and meaning when parodies like “Harvey & Shiela” stopped being taboo.

The film leans heavily on its interviews with celebrities, most notably, Leonard Nimoy and Regina Spector. Each giving their personal experiences with the song and how it shaped their lives. 

“Hava Nagila: The Movie” is a fun and entertaining film about Jewish history, positive thinking, and finding the silver lining in life. It is a great film for all ages. 

4 out of 5