A Long-Lost Notebook Sheds Light on the Origins of “Hava Nagilah”

In the West, perhaps no tune is so associated with Jews and Judaism as “Hava Nagilah” (“Let us rejoice!”), written by Abraham Zvi Idelsohn in the early 20th century. Born in 1882 in what is now Latvia, Idelsohn trained as a cantor before studying music formally at German conservatories. He then settled in Jerusalem. Edwin Seroussi and James Loeffler explain how he came to write “Hava Nagilah.”

Living next door to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, Idelsohn set as his own goal the creation of a modern Hebrew music to accompany the national rebirth of Jewish life in the ancient homeland. In the spirit of the Zionist philosopher Ahad Ha’am, Idelsohn began to collect all the riches of Jewish musical traditions that he found in Ottoman Palestine and throughout the Diaspora.

Using the emerging recording technology, he began to transcribe folk songs and make field recordings in order to forge an old-new musical sound that would be (in his view) authentically Jewish. That meant uncovering what he imagined to be the oldest layer of pre-exilic melody common to all Jewish traditions and liberating it from the foreign accretions resulting from the exile.

Like other architects of this new Hebrew culture, Idelsohn sought out Jewish religious culture in order to refashion it into new secular national traditions. It was in this context that Idelsohn premiered a new song, “Hava Nagila,” at a mixed-sex choir concert in Jerusalem sometime in 1918. . . . Much later, in 1932, Idelsohn wrote that he originally transcribed the melody from a Sadegurer Ḥasid in Jerusalem in 1915.

There are several possible explanations as to how and where Idelsohn encountered this Ḥasid. A recently catalogued collection of his papers, which had languished for decades in the library of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, seem to suggest the meeting took place even earlier.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Israeli music, Jewish music, Zionism


Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy