It begins, of course, at a wedding. The band strikes up the first few notes of “Hava Nagila” and guests stream onto the dance floor as if under a spell. This short but lively documentary asks why, and then answers its question with an entertaining examination of the “kitschy and profound” song’s cultural and historical origins.
Director Roberta Grossman and writer Sophie Sartain approach their subject in a style that also balances the kitschy and the profound. They trace the historical roots of the music to the shtetls of the Ukraine, where it first appeared as a Hasidic nigun (wordless prayer or melody). It then follows its migration to Palestine, where Jewish folk songs were recorded by musicologist Abraham Zvi Idelsohn. It was in Palestine that “Hava met Hora,” as the film puts it, the traditional circle dance now inseparable from the song at social gatherings.