At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman brought “Hava Nagila” to a global audience when she performed her gold medal winning floor routine to the song.
But Raisman was not the first to tumble to this classic tune in major competition. There have been at least four gymnasts, all non-Jews, before her who have used “Hava Nagila” in their routines.
Why would gymnasts with no connection to Judaism choose to perform to “Hava Nagila“?
First, the gymnasts who’ve used the tune mostly hail from countries with strong Eastern European folk traditions. The tune, which originated in the Ukraine, fits in well with other locally grown music.
Also, gymnasts have only 90 seconds on the mat and “Hava” helps performers quickly connect with audiences.
It’s not just gymnasts that have used the clap-happy track. A pair of Israeli ice dancers, Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky, used it during the Olympics in 2010. Unfortunately, their performance did not earn them any medals.
So “Hava Nagila,” while popular with crowds, doesn’t automatically win over judges. After all, they don’t hand out gold medals for music selection alone.