I Am Hava: A Song’s Sto­ry of Love, Hope and Joy

Fre­da Lewkow­icz, Siona Ben­jamin (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – December 15, 2021

A sur­pris­ing nar­ra­tor and atten­tion-grab­bing col­or intro­duce young read­ers to a famous Hebrew song that Jews all over the world sing and dance to with over­whelm­ing joy. From its birth as a Ukrain­ian shtetl nig­gun to its Israeli for­mal music nota­tion and lyrics to its attach­ment to Jews world­wide, this ener­getic hap­py tune bursts forth from every page. In this pic­ture book, we see it sung on myr­i­ad occa­sions, cel­e­brat­ing good times and promis­ing hope in sad times.

The his­to­ry of Hava Nag­i­la is told to read­ers by the song itself, a nov­el way to share infor­ma­tion. The song explains that it always want­ed words, but when the words appear, no one is sure who wrote them, the tran­scrib­ing musi­cian or his stu­dent. Once this riv­et­ing melody attach­es itself to the Hora dance, there is no stop­ping it. Every Jew every­where hears and sings it: at wed­dings, at Bar/​Bat Mitz­vahs, dur­ing hol­i­days, at con­certs and con­claves, and even at the Olympics where it helps win a gold medal.

The lyrics appear in the illus­tra­tions, and the images reflect an ancient East­ern cul­ture. The col­ors of the pic­ture book are bril­liant and strong, with radi­ant jew­el tones dom­i­nat­ed by blue. This blue is a col­or asso­ci­at­ed with the song; the illus­tra­tor, of Indi­an Jew­ish back­ground, explains that the col­or was cho­sen for its con­nec­tion to Judaism, as in a tal­lit and tzitz­it, and for uni­ver­sal­i­ty, as in the globe and the sky. Flow­ing for­mat, unusu­al shapes, bound­less ener­gy, and a nar­ra­tor that is the object of the book mesh togeth­er to imprint infor­ma­tion on young read­ers who will not miss the hope and the joy of Hava Nagila.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions