About 15 years ago, I wrote this piece for a now-defunct web site. That was long before critic Josh Kun waxed more-or-less definitively on the topic in the wonderful documentary Hava Nagila (The Movie). For further insights, I also recommend David Kaufman’s take on Dylan's Jewish identity in Jewhooing the Sixties.
Bob Dylan’s Jewish Blues: “Talkin’ Hava Nageilah”
Standing on the tiny stage, Dylan’s rhythmic guitar strumming sounded like any one of the Woody Guthrie ballads he often played. But now there was a comic glint in his eye and a smirk on his face. To punctuate the effect he tilted his head to touch his lips to the ever-present harmonica squeezed into a wire brace around his neck and blew a couple of quick chords. There was a sarcastic tone in his voice when he said “Here’s a foreign song I learned in Utah.” Then without missing a beat he sang: “Hah (guitar strumming) vah, Hah-vah (guitar strumming) nah, Hah-vah-nah (guitar strumming) GEE! Hah-vah-nah-gee (strumming) LAH! Hah-vah-nah-gee-lah!” And he ended the one minute song with a piercing yodel followed by a harmonica flourish which had the largely Jewish audience of college students, drop outs, aging beatniks and uptown liberals whooping in surprise and delight.
|Dylan in Jerusalem|