“It became an instant casual hit,” he said. (A stunner, if you will.) Jewish youth groups, inside and outside the United States, have taken over. By the 1940s, Jewish people in the diaspora began singing it in the aftermath of the Holocaust. “It became a symbol of happiness, and a symbol of joyful renewal and survival, and it went on from there,” Professor Loeffler said.
Harry Belafonte, who was married to the Jewish Julie Robinson, recorded the song in the late 1950s, making it even more mainstream. “That gave it tremendous appeal,” Professor Loeffler said. “People started making other versions of it.” By the 1990s, European football teams were playing it in their stadiums and Eastern European gymnasts were using it for their floor routines.
“It’s so relatable, and it’s very simple, very easy, very ubiquitous,” he added. “That’s why it works on the baseball field. It works on the ice rink.”
Musicians who play it today report that it is an instant crowd pleaser.
Alex Megane, a 44-year-old DJ and producer from Greifswald, Germany, made a club mix track of the song with Marc van Damme, a sound engineer. “I’ve played it in Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Estonia, Poland – basically all over Europe,” he said. “The record really captures people, and they love it.”
The timing may seem surprising given the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents. “We live at a strange time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, especially in this country, but also in Europe,” said Professor Loeffler. But research also shows, he said, that Americans love the religion of Judaism and that Jewish culture is popular. “I think the ‘Hava Nagila’ is an interesting reflection of this,” he said.