Let the magic begin!

It's not just the kids who are enchanted at the Holon Adloyada Purim carnival, and for Israelis, Israel's biggest street party is as much a part of Purim as hamentashen.

Giant rocking horse 521 (photo credit: Eli Na’aman)
Giant rocking horse 521
(photo credit: Eli Na’aman)
Where can you celebrate Purim with a gang of friendly space aliens, a bunch of mischievous imps from an enchanted forest, a four-meter-tall bat, two friendly caterpillars, dancing snowmen, and a giant half-owl, half-cat creature? At the Holon Adloyada, of course! These and more magical characters from the Holon Children’s Museum will take to the streets of the “Children’s City” next week for Israel’s largest and most extravagant Purim carnival.
“The Children’s Museum has been chosen as the theme of this year’s carnival in honor of its 10th anniversary,” says Hadar Shiran, the museum’s pedagogical director. “And because the museum and the Adloyada are both very much part of Holon’s ‘Children’s City’ spirit.”
For Israelis, the much-loved and cherished Adloyada carnival is as much a part of Purim as hamentashen, the Megilla or mishloah manot (Purim baskets). But though certain carnivalesque elements like costumes and masks have been part of Purim for centuries, the Adloyada itself is a young tradition.
This quintessentially Israeli celebration was born 115 years ago – not in Holon, but some kilometers north, in the first Hebrew city of Tel Aviv, inspired by the Zionist ethos that permeated the country during the Second Aliya.
Avraham Aldema (born Eisenstein), an art teacher at the Herzliya Gymnasium and a fervent Zionist who had made aliya from Ukraine, dreamed up the idea for a Purim street jamboree in 1912.
Aldema was serious about Zionism, and was one of the first members of the Hagana, the underground Jewish militia force. He was also a fun-loving bohemian who led the Hevre Trask (Yiddish for “noisy bunch”), a motley crew of mischief-makers devoted to spreading happiness and joy to others.
And what better way, reasoned Aldema, to spread joy than with a public carnival in the style and flavor of European carnivals, but celebrating Purim, that glorious Jewish victory symbolizing freedom from an evil tyrant? Aldema threw his first Purim carnival in March 1912. As lively music played, the art teacher led a flamboyant public procession of Gymnasium students dressed as characters from the Purim story along Tel Aviv’s biggest street, Rehov Herzl.
CARNIVALS ARE about excess, happiness, merrymaking, joy and freedom, and all these things resonated with the culture and ethos of the young Hebrew city. Tel Aviv mayor Meir Dizengoff insisted that Aldema repeat the event the following year.
Aldema did as Dizengoff asked, and what started out as a local festival rapidly became Eretz Yisrael’s biggest street party. Visitors traveled from all over the country to attend, overloading public transport and swamping Tel Aviv’s hotels and guest houses.
In 1932, at the height of the carnival’s popularity, it was decided that the event deserved a uniquely Jewish name. Three hundred people, including some of Eretz Yisrael’s leading literary lights, put forward suggestions.
Haim Nahman Bialik proposed “Pura,” Shaul Tchernikowsky suggested “Estorat” and Avraham Shlonsky came up with “Tzahalola (from tzahal, “celebration”).
The winning entry was submitted by writer Yitzhak Dov Berkowitz, who suggested “Adloyada” after Rava’s famous Talmud commentary that on Purim one should drink “ad lo yada” – until one does not know the difference between the statements “Blessed be Mordecai” and “Cursed be Haman.”
The Adloyada’s fame as a festival to rival the famous carnivals of Europe even spread abroad. In 1934, British journalist and Daily Express correspondent Kathleen Courlander visited Tel Aviv for the event on the recommendations of friends and recorded her impressions in The Palestine Post.
“I laugh as I write,” enthused Courlander. “For where ten thousand people are expressing their merriment with consistent unity, the individual is caught in the common spirit. It is a gleaming festival, a fantasy, a holiday that has a note of non-reality. It is difficult to believe that it is true, that it is not a dream.”
While the Adloyada remained at heart a Purim celebration, replete with a Queen Esther beauty contest and a public Megilla reading, each year the event took a theme unrelated to the holiday. Just as in European carnivals, many of the Adloyada’s costumes and floats had political and satirical overtones. The 1934 carnival for example, included a float with a giant crocodile puppet condemning Hitler’s rise to power, which was later ritually burned.
JUST TWO years later, the same political events the Adloyada satirized eventually put a stop to the whole event. The Jewish authorities in Tel Aviv felt it inappropriate to hold a carnival and celebrate while Jews were suffering terrible persecution in Europe. They canceled the Adloyada indefinitely.
(Ironically, Hitler, who of course banned all Jewish holidays, had a particular hatred of Purim because it told the story of the Jews’ defeat of an evil oppressor who sought to exterminate them. So powerful was the Purim story, that under the Nazi regime it was a capital offense for anyone, even Christians, to possess the Scroll of Esther.) After lying dormant for so many years, the tradition of holding a national Adloyada was revived 19 years ago. But rather than simply reinstating the tradition in Tel Aviv, the whole event was moved a few kilometers south, to Holon.
A surprising location for what started out as a very Tel Avivian tradition? “Actually, it’s very natural for the Adloyada to be in Holon,” says the Children’s Museum’s Shiran. “After all, Holon is the ‘children’s city,’ and most of the audience at the Adloyada are children and families.”
Holon certainly takes its role as the venue for Israel’s premier Adloyada very seriously. To provide expertise for creating and developing the carnival, the city runs a special “Art of the Carnival” course in its School for the Art of Puppetry, part of the Israel Puppet Center which opened in Holon in 1996 as part of its redevelopment as the “children’s city.”
And, adds Shiran, the organizers of the Adloyada have woven a serious message into the festivities: the Children’s Museum’s important themes of mutual acceptance, tolerance and respect for diversity will be an integral part of this year’s event.
“All the various characters at the Children’s Museum promote values of tolerance and respect for different types of people and cultures,” adds Shiran. “The museum also includes two special exhibitions, ‘Dialog in the Dark,’ and ‘An Invitation to Silence,’ which help children understand what it is like to be deaf and blind, and we have incorporated these experiences into the Adloyada.
“For example, during the parade there will be a beautiful performance by a wheelchair dance troupe, and a children’s choir will perform songs in sign-language.”
In charge of designing all the giant puppets and floats that make the Adloyada so spectacular is Tzipi Yifat, Israel’s leading carnival design expert. Yifat has been responsible for designing the Adloyada ever since its revival in Holon almost two decades ago, and agrees with Shiran that Holon is a perfect choice for Israel’s biggest Purim carnival.
“The Adloyada is part of Holon’s ‘children’s city’ ethos, and because of that it’s very important to emphasize something connected with the city,” she explains.
Designing and creating the Holon Adloyada took the better part of a year, adds Yifat, who learned her carnival, street theater and set design skills in Italy – a country renowned for its world-class carnival traditions.
“We decide on the theme for the Adloyada the preceding summer. After that, we can start to plan and design the giant dolls and puppets,” says Yifat. “And when the designs are complete, we start to carefully construct everything.”
One reason the Adloyada takes so long to create is the complexity of putting together what is essentially a mobile piece of street theater. Designing the puppets and floats is more complex than it might seem, Yifat emphasizes.
“Designing and creating carnival floats and puppets is a tough job,” she explains. “It’s even more complex than creating sets for street theater, because in a carnival the floats are constantly in motion.
“So it’s not enough just to imagine what each float or giant puppet will look like. I need to consider carefully how it will appear at all stages of the Adloyada to all the various people in the crowd. How will small children see it? What will it look like to adults?” Where does Yifat get her inspiration to create the Adloyada’s giant puppets and lavish floats each year? To refresh her artistic vision and keep abreast of the latest trends in world carnival design, Yifat admits she has the enviable task of traveling the world to experience carnivals in places like Rio de Janeiro, Venice and Viareggio.
“I go to look at as many carnivals as I can, to soak up the atmosphere and get inspiration for designs,” says Yifat.
How does the Adloyada compare to carnivals overseas? While the Holon Adloyada is much smaller than its Italian and Brazilian counterparts, there are many similarities, says Yifat.
“I just came back from the carnival in Viareggio [in Italy], and that is very similar to the Adloyada,” she adds.
“But of course there are lots of differences, too.
Take size, for example: The giant puppets we build for the Adloyada are about 4.5 meters tall; but in Viareggio, the carnival puppets reach 20 meters in height. Here in Israel, it’s not really possible to create such enormous puppets.”
What difference does religion make to carnival style? After all, the Adloyada is in celebration of a Jewish holiday, whereas carnivals in other countries have Christian roots. The festival was originally a celebration of the start of the Christian holiday of Lent during which meat is forbidden, and the word carnival is thought to originate from the Latin carne vale, meaning “farewell to meat.”
According to Yifat, most carnivals have evolved into secular public events.
“Although [overseas] carnivals do have Christian roots, today they aren’t really religious celebrations,” says Yifat. “And here in Israel, it’s the same.
Even though the Adloyada is a Purim celebration, the story of Esther, Mordecai and Haman is already in the background and the theme of the Adloyada usually has little to do with Purim.”
Another crucial way the Holon Adloyada differs from overseas carnivals is its focus on entertainment that will appeal predominantly to children and families.
Rio’s carnival is famous for its grotesque elements and its risqué, scantily clad dancers and drag queens, and Viareggio’s carnival is notorious for its wickedly satirical caricatures of Italian politicians and public figures.
While beauty pageants and satire were also popular elements of the first Tel Aviv Adloyadas, Holon, ever-mindful of its role as Israel’s “children’s city,” now avoids these things in deference to its younger audience.
The Adloyada’s child-friendly themes have not detracted from its popularity, however.
While Holon’s Adloyada might be much smaller than carnivals in Europe and South America, and even than the original Tel Aviv Adloyada, it is still the largest carnival in Israel – and it’s getting bigger every year.
“According to police statistics, we had 300,000 people attend the Adloyada last year, even though it rained heavily on the day,” says Yifat with pride.
“And this year we are hoping for even more.”
SO WHAT can visitors to the Holon Adloyada next week expect to see? Metro was treated to a sneak preview of some of the many delights Yifat and her team have prepared for this year’s event.
Though the Adloyada is designed for children, it is still very much a carnival – and what would a carnival be without the weird, the wonderful, the extravagant and the lavish? With this in mind, Yifat has transformed each of the characters from the museum’s four themed sections, “A Journey with an Owl-Cat,” “A Journey to Mend the Kingdom of Time,” “The Magic Forest” and “The Aliens,” into flamboyant giant puppets and sumptuous floats.
The highlights of the Adloyada will include two enormous puppets of Zig and Zag, the pair of friendly caterpillars from “Journey with an Owl- Cat.” Following these fun-loving giant larvae will be a colorful parade of local children dressed as frogs, caterpillars, sheep and lambs.
The museum’s “Magic Forest” display will be brought to life on a moving display featuring real snow, a glittering entourage of white magicians and dancing snowmen.
A four-meter-high cuckoo clock will form the magnificent centerpiece of “Journey to Repair the Kingdom of Time,” as children and acrobats dressed as birds and forest sprites whirl around it in a kaleidoscopic dance depicting the changing seasons.
A group of friendly visitors from outer space will bring up the rear of the Adloyada on a magnificent 10-meter-long spaceship. As they greet the crowds of Earthlings, giant aliens on stilts and smaller extra-terrestrial life forms will dance and perform juggling tricks together.
The pièce de résistance, for Tzipi Yifat at least, will be the giant puppet version of Mr. Yanshul, Holon’s Owl-Cat character, whose distinctive feathered and furry personage can be seen at various places around the city in the form of statues directing visitors to the Children’s Museum.
“We created Mr. Yanshul with a puppet made from 20,000 real flowers,” says Yifat. “It took us days to assemble everything, and it was really incredible to watch the puppet being created.”
And that’s not all – while the Adloyada parade promises to be spectacular, Holon has planned an equally dramatic grand finale. As the floats and puppets reach Holon City Hall, Swedish and Israeli acrobats will abseil from the roof and form a human pyramid amid a fantastic pyrotechnics display and live music.
Avraham Aldema and his Hevre Trask would surely approve.

The Holon Adloyada will take place on Sunday March 20 at 3 p.m., and again on Monday March 21 at 10 a.m., each time commencing outside the Holon Mediatheque at Rehov Golda Meir 6, Holon.