"Havah Nagilah" means something like "come let us rejoice". Israeli citizens may be somewhat surprised to learn that their beloved traditional is regarded as a "pub song" by some irreverent beer-swilling British louts (who are obviously fair-minded and are equally irreverent to all manner of songs)... Hymn tunes are especially sought out as vehicles of sometimes the worst depravity.
So, the next time you visit an English pub, you can sing-along: "Havah nagilah, Havah, nagilah, Havah, nagilah venism'chah. Havah, naranana, Havah, naranana, Havah, naranana, venism'chah. Uru, uru achim, Uru na achim b'lev shameach, Uru na achim b'lev shameach, Uru na achim b'lev shameach!"
Apparently, the man largely responsible for the song's existence in its present form is Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, the father of Jewish Musicology. Three years after World War I—he was a bandmaster in the Turkish Army during the war—Idelsohn returned to Jerusalem, leading a chorus in a "victory concert". The Turks were out, the British were in, there was a Balfour Declaration, and the yishuv (Jewish community) was celebrating. He needed a good crowd-pleasing number to end his concert, and he didn't have one. But he had a file, so he browsed, and as luck would have it his hand fell on this Sadigura Nigun. He arranged it in four parts, put some simple Hebrew lyrics to it, and performed it. The rest, as you know, is history, as this became the best-known Jewish song in the world.
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