Hora is a Romanian word, rooted in the Greek word Chorus, as in a chorus line – a group of dancers in a line or circle who dance in unison. In Romania, a Hora is usually a circle dance open to all (see Hora Mare under Living Dances), and also a weekly dance event. (See also “Hora, Romania” under BEGIN).
Many Jews lived in Romania – in the 1800’s Jews were even the majority in some northern and eastern regions – and they learned their neighbours’ dances. By the late 1800’s, anti-Semitism was making life intolerable for Jews in Romania and neighbouring Russia & Ukraine, and they began moving to the USA and Palestine.
As the situation in Eastern Europe worsened, a movement began to create a homeland for Jews in Palestine, which the British had just taken from the Turks. Every tool of persuasion was used to gain support for the idea, both among Jews and non-Jewish government leaders. As this land in Palestine was going to be a “new” start for Jews, it was felt there needed to be a “new” kind of music and dance.
Jerusalem – in 1918, a bandleader named Avraham Zvi Idelsohn was ruminating on this idea when he was tasked with leading a concert to celebrate the British victory over the Turks. He recalled a wordless melody (Nigun in Hebrew) he had heard from some Hassidic immigrants from Romania. He re-arranged the melody, added lyrics, his choir sang the song at the concert, and that should have been that. Except the song he wrote was “Hava Nagila” – a tune so catchy, with Hebrew lyrics so inspiring, that it spread like wildfire.
Soon “Hava Nagila”, sung at an ever-increasing tempo, was the unofficial anthem of the movement to create a new homeland – Israel. The most popular non-partner Jewish dance at the time was the Bulgar,
based on the Taproot Dance (See Bulgar under 1st Generation dances) a dance known to Romanians as Sârba (see Sârba under Living Dances). The name Bulgar had too many connotations of old-fashioned oriental indolence, however. Hora for some reason didn’t, and so the Yiddish Bulgar dance became known as the Hora in Israel, and soon all over the world. And the melody most associated with Israel, “Hava Nagila”, became so associated with the “Israeli” dance Hora, that the two became inseparable. To dance “Hava Nagila” was to dance the Hora; to dance the Hora you danced to “Hava Nagila”.