"Hava Nagila"... for a Teeny Bopper Christmas?

Who knew that "Hava Nagila" could be "sexy" ... or "racy"...?  Lauren Rose (formerly Lauren Goldberg), a Jewess from the UK, has given this familiar (and perhaps tiresome) traditional Hebrew folk song a somewhat dirty, teeny-bopper twist. 

Her new top-of-the-charts hit "Hava Nagila (Baby Let's Dance)" -- the anticipated No. 1 Christmas song in the UK... huh? -- is creating a stir in the blogosphere and on YouTube, sparking many reactions, from pride and awe-struck praise, to disgust and outrage.  Performed in a ruffley mini-skirt and seductive, pouty expressions, Rose's lyrics fuse the original Hebrew words of "Hava Nagila" with: "Hold me, hold me... move our bodies, baby let's dance" and "it's ok to let go, it's ok if you wanna show... lose it... just jump, just jump... close your eyes and breathe."

I've watched the video a few times on YouTube, and each time I find it more and more... bizarre.  There's a part of me that would like to appreciate this British pop-star's effort to celebrate and popularize her heritage but instead, she's sexualized it and, in the process, dropped her Jewish last name... so it's hard to view her "art" with much integrity.  In the Forward, Rose said that she initially recorded her sexy "Hava Nagila (Baby Let's Dance)" as a gift for her grandfather in celebration of his 100th birthday, and shared the following with regards to the song's expression of interfaith bridge-building:

"I've grown up with my extended family celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas, so if a Jewish song could be top of the Christmas charts, it would be a great way of bringing everyone together."

For real?  "Hava Nagila" on Christmas?

The obvious absurdity of this "Christmas" song begs the question: should we be re-packaging authentic cultural expressions to accommodate a market that is steadily employing the belief that ethnic sells, and it's sexy, too?  "Hava Nagila" has had its share of pop-culture mash-ups over the decades.  On Saturday Night Live, The Sweeney Sisters, a duo of party singers (played by Jan Hooks and Nora Dunn) did a spoof cover of "Hava Nagila" in their very high-pitched voices.  On the comedy TV sketch show, In Living Color, the soul singers Cephus and Reesie sang "Hava Nagila" at a bar mitzvah but with the lyrics "Hava nagila, have a tortilla."  The pop musical group "Party Animals" (from the Netherlands) recorded "Hava Nequila" on one of their albums. Bob Dylan recorded "Talkin' Hava Negeilah Blues."  A Polish heavy metal band, Rootwater, recorded "Hava Nagila" in Polish and in Hebrew.  Do a "Hava Nagila" search on YouTube, and the results are copiously amusing.  "Hava Nagila" - Thai Style, and "Hava Nagila" - Ukrainian Style are two of my favorites.

Whether it's in the UK, the U.S. or elsewhere, how good or bad is it for Jewishness to get commodified or popularized to be "cool" or "hot?" Is it good that "Hava Nagila" might now be "normalized" as a Sweet 16 hit for Jewish and non-Jewish girls alike?  Better to have "Hava Nagila" at the top of the charts, than to not have it there at all?  And would the song be popular in the first place had it been a cute boy singing it instead of Lauren Rose?

Topics: Hanukkah, Music, Music
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Who is this comment for... I'm not sure. I stumbled upon this cover when looking for an upbeat version for my spin class (I don't remember what prompted that). I'll tell you what, this is one of my all time favorite spin songs. The very elements that make it such a dance hit work exceptionally well for cycling - grind/sprint. This morning I asked Alexa to play it and she couldn't find it, so I went to YouTube. WTF? Not what I was expecting. Little kids jumping around next to Rose shaking her stuff in a way that made my heart race. Cultural appropriation? Sure, if you can appropriate from your own culture (which I think you can) but great rendition.

Hava Nagila was written as an expression of joy.

"Let's rejoice Awake brothers, with a happy heart "

It was a celebration of the British victory over the Ottomans in Palestine, and the prospect of a Jewish state. This version of Rose's captures that joy and hope. What's not to like about it?

...and though the questions asked in the article are interesting, and though the hit might be distasteful or offensive, there's not much we can do about it.

It's simply another facet of the global village, i.e., everyone's culture is now open for play by everybody else. It's not as if it's the first time a song, or symbol, or practice has been popularized or commercialized. How do you think Native Americans feel when they see dream-catchers in white kids' bedrooms? Probably the same way I feel when I hear of a non-Jewish couple getting married under a chuppah, or pop idols "studying" Kabbalah.

It's annoying, but I'd rather channel my energies toward making a difference in a concrete, positive way (and there are a million ways to do this) than launch yet another e-petition that ends up...where? Somewhere in cyberspace.

I'm not sure I see the connection between Hava Nagila and Christmas (other than in the artist's imagination). On the other hand, recent discussion on the Jewish-Music mailing list led to the claim that almost all popular American Christmas songs were written by Jews, starting with the secular ballad, "White Christmas," written by Irving Berlin (and recorded a few years ago in Yiddish by Mandy Patinkin). In the spirit of that double cultural reverse, and as an antidote to yet another "hava nagila" recording that seems banal above all else, I present this Yiddish take on an American icon of this season: "Yiddish Rudolph" [ video on YouTube ]

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How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. ""Hava Nagila"... for a Teeny Bopper Christmas?." 20 December 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 18, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/hava-nagila-for-a-teeny-bopper-christmas>.