An ecological desert Purim

Environmental High School in the Negev students turn discarded junk into elaborate carnival art at their environmentally friendly Adloyada.

Cruella deVille float 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cruella deVille float 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As cities up and down the country mark Purim with costumes and carnival parades next week, students from the Environmental High School in the Negev are set to celebrate their own Adloyada.
For the past 15 years, students at the school have created their own Adloyada parade, complete with giant puppets, flamboyant costumes and energetic street theater and dancing. And though the school’s Adloyada has become the Negev’s largest community Purim event, everything about it is completely environmentally friendly.
Carnivals are all about colorful excess – flamboyant costumes, giant puppets, and elaborate floats. Is it possible for an Adloyada to also be green? “Yes – because all the giant puppets and floats are created entirely from recycled materials and junk,” says the school’s principal Hagai Reznik.
“And when the Adloyada is over, the students dismantle everything and each piece gets recycled all over again.”
Its messages of environmental awareness make the Adloyada far more than just a fun carnival show. It is an important aspect of the Environmental High School’s “green” curriculum, adds Reznik, which in addition to teaching ecological sciences emphasizes the students’ personal responsibility toward the wider environment and their immediate surroundings.
A four-year boarding school on the edge of the magnificent Nahal Tzin, the Ecological High School caters to a total of 220 students aged 14 to 18. The school is an integral part of the Midreshet Ben-Gurion, the educational establishment inspired by and named for Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
He considered the Negev a place of extraordinary inspiration as well as natural beauty and firmly believed that creating a thriving Jewish culture there was key to the country’s successful future.
Midreshet Ben-Gurion was established in 1962, and the Environmental High School added 14 years later, three years after Ben Gurion’s death. The school’s founders wanted to create a Negev institution with an educational focus on ecological issues which could provide students with a combination of theoretical studies and practical fieldwork in the desert.
The school’s original vision and emphasis on environmental awareness continues to this day, says Reznik.
“Environmental and ecological studies are a central part of our curriculum,” he explains.
“The students learn about the physical environment through theoretical studies and practical workshops in the desert, and also about their own personal environments and how we affect others. ” The Adloyada is another practical extension of the environmental values the students learn in Sde Boker.
“The Adloyada is a good example of how the students at the Environmental High School learn to take personal responsibility for themselves and for the environment,” says Reznik.
Since its debut 15 years ago, the Adloyada has become a permanent fixture in the school year. Its fame has even spread beyond the school and local Sde Boker community, he adds.
“Our Adloyada is the largest Purim carnival created by high-school students in Israel,” he says.
“And it’s the biggest community Purim event in the Negev region.
Thousands of people come to Sde Boker from all over the region and beyond to enjoy the Adloyada.”
That a small desert high school is responsible for the Negev’s largest Purim carnival is impressive enough in itself – but consider this: The Sde Boker Adloyada is designed, created and performed entirely by the Environmental High School students, without help from the teaching staff.
From the initial planning of the year’s ideas and themes to designing, engineering and constructing complex floats, giant puppets and eye-catching costumes, teenagers from the school are in sole charge of the whole production, says 18-year-old Orly Gabai, a 12th-grader who works as a student counselor.
“We start the process around two months before Purim,” explains Gabai.
“The students get together to decide on the themes for the Adloyada, and then we begin designing the whole thing.”
In addition to building the puppets and floats, the students are also completely responsible for designing every aspect of the parade, including all of the choreography, street theater acts, costumes and music.
And just as one would expect from a school whose ethos is centered on environmental awareness, every single one of the Adloyada’s giant puppets is created from any old garbage and recycled materials the students can scavenge.
Discarded irrigation hoses, plastic bottles, paper, cardboard boxes and even old pieces of iron frames – anything and everything the students can get their hands on is magically transformed into a beautiful part of the carnival.
HOW DO the students handle all this extracurricular activity? “It’s a huge amount of work!” says Gabai. “The students get together to create the puppets and everything else every day after classes have ended, and everyone puts a lot of time and effort into the process.”
Each of the school’s four grades selects its own theme for the Adloyada, and students in each grade work together to design puppets, costumes and dances based on the topic they have chosen.
The themes the students choose are usually very diverse, but often each relates in some way to environmental issues. This year is no exception: The four themes are the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, the effects of Americanization on society, insect life, and birds.
For this year’s event, the students have put together over 20 colorful giant puppets, each of which reaches an impressive three or four meters in height.
An important part of the Adloyada is the competition between the school’s grades. As the students parade their colorful and exotic puppets and costumes around the Midreshet Ben-Gurion campus, each grade is rated for its creativity, originality, humor, and choreography.
The competition between the students is always fierce, and the Environmental School’s grades also have a lot to live up to from previous years’ successes.
Memorable puppets of Adloyadas past include a giant Noah’s Ark complete with animals; Jonah and his whale; and, on a less biblical note, a larger-than-life model of the Beatles.
According to Gabai, the payoff for the months of hard work the students put into constructing the puppets and producing the Adloyada is the overwhelming feeling of pride they experience when they finally parade their creations in front of a huge crowd of people.
“Lots of people, about 5,000 in all, come to Sde Boker for the Adloyada,” Gabai says. “There is so much adrenalin and energy running through the kids on that day, because then we see the results of everything we worked on for so long.”
The Environmental High School’s transformation of garbage into a Purim carnival and back again is nothing less than magical, but perhaps it’s only to be expected from this Negev community.
After all, as Ben-Gurion wrote in a letter describing his vision of a learning community in the desert: “The Negev turns an ordinary person into a creative human being.”
The Ecological Adloyada of the Environmental High School at Midreshet Ben-Gurion, Sde Boker, will take place tomorrow, starting at 9:30 a.m.. The school is located on Road 40, 3 km. south of Kibbutz Sde Boker. For more information call 050-536-3513.