Thursday, May 30, 2019


Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bechukosai – Shabbos Chazak!
Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan
            26 Iyar 5779/May 31, 2019
Avos perek 5 – 41sh day of the Omer

So what do Yankees games, old time kibbutzim in Eretz Yisroel, and this year’s Lag Baomer medurah (fire) in Nee Square have in common?
You guessed it; they all play hava nagila!
It may sound shocking but it’s true. This past Wednesday evening, on Lag Baomer, I attended the massive fire in New Square. Thousands of chassidim were gathered on bleachers surrounding the constructed stage upon which the rebbe sat. After the rebbe spoke briefly, he lit the fire, and the crowd erupted, jovially singing the famous Lag Baomer classics “Bar Yochai”, “Va’amartem”, and “Amar Rabbi Akiva”. And then the band started playing the tune of hava nagila. The crowd sang along melodiously, albeit to the classic Chassidic niggun (melody without words) lyrics “oy doy doy doy doy”.
All of us non-chassidim shared our astonishment. Were we imagining things or was this fervently chassidic gathering playing perhaps the most secular Zionistic song ever produced?
Someone suggested that either it was actually an ancient chassidic tune that the chassidim were making an effort to reclaim, or they weren’t aware of the history and symbolism of the song, or a combination of both.  
A minute later he added that there’s one other possibility - Moshiach is coming!
The following day, I did some research and discovered that the tune does have a fascinating history. In 1838, the noted chassidic rebbe, Rav Yisrael of Rizhin was imprisoned by the Czar. After two years, he escaped to the village of Sadiger in Austria where he began a new following. It seems that it was at that time that the tune for hava nagila was composed by one of his chassidim, and it became a favorite among the chassidim.
Then, at the beginning of the 1900s, a group of Sadiger chassidim emigrated to Yerushalayim and brought the beloved niggun with them.
There was a famous composer and cantor named Avrohom Zevi Idelsohn who was an avid Zionist and had moved from Germany to Yerushalayim in 1905.
Idelsohn enjoyed learning diverse Jewish musical melodies and traditions of different sects of Jews. One of the tunes he learned was the Sadigerer niggun. After learning the tune, Idelsohn decide to add words to the niggun based on the pasuk in Tehillim (11:24) “this is the day Hashem has made, nagila v’nismicha bo - we will rejoice and be happy on it.”
During a concert in Yerushalayim to celebrate the end of World War I, Idelsohn performed the Sadiger niggun with his new words. It became an instant sensation and subsequently became a standard song in Zionist youth groups and weddings.
In the 1950s the song began to take hold outside the Jewish world. Most famously, the renown American singer Harry Belafonte, would sing it.
During the last few decades, hava nagila has become famous the world over. It’s message about transcending life’s challenges by being happy and rejoicing resonates everywhere. These days it can be heard at weddings and sports events, such as during Yankees games. But the song remains a symbol of the Zionist world and cause. The ironic and little-known origin of the song makes it all the more intriguing.
It turns out that the chassidim are indeed trying to reclaim an ancient niggun that they feel was taken from them. Perhaps they aren’t aware of the current symbolism that the song contains, or perhaps they are aware and don’t care. But the fact is that it is shocking to hear that song being played at such an event.
We often wonder how Moshiach is going to be able to unify all of the diverse factions of the Jewish people. (That itself will be the true test of who the real Moshiach is.) Perhaps when he comes we will all sing hava nagila together. Some may be singing the words of hava nagila and others may be singing oy doy doy doy doy. But if all Jews are singing the same tune - which may not have happened since we stood in perfect unity at Sinai - that itself is a symbol that the messianic era is upon us.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum