“It became an instant informal hit,” he said. (A banger, if you will.) Jewish youth groups, inside and outside the United States, adopted it. By the 1940s, Jewish people in the diaspora started singing it in the aftermath of the Holocaust. “It became a symbol of happiness, and a symbol of joyful renewal and survival, and it kept going on from there,” Professor Loeffler said.
Harry Belafonte, who was married to Jewish woman, Julie Robinson, recorded the song in the late 1950s, making it even more mainstream. “That lent it a huge appeal,” Professor Loeffler said. “People started to do other versions of it.” By the 1990s, European soccer teams were playing it in their stadiums, and Eastern European gymnasts used it for their floor routines.
“It is so recognizable, and it is this very simple, very easy, very ubiquitous thing,” he added. “That’s why it works at the ballpark, it works at the ice skating rink.”
Musicians playing it today report it being an instant crowd-pleaser.
Alex Megane, a 44-year-old D.J. 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 around Europe,” he said. “The record really catches the people, and they love it.”
The timing may seem surprising, given the rising number of antisemitic incidents. “We live in an odd moment in which in this country in particular, but also in Europe, there is soaring antisemitism,” Professor Loeffler said. But research also shows, he said, that Americans like the religion of Judaism, and Jewish culture is popular. “I think the ‘Hava Nagila’ is an interesting reflection of this,” he said.