Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Purim “Adloyada” – which dates back to the early days of Tel Aviv – was first proposed in 1912 and went on to quickly become the largest public event in Eretz Yisrael and the destination of a significant annual pilgrimage. It also played a leading role in creating an original and authentic local Hebrew identity, furthering the ideological nationalism of the nascent Zionist movement, and positioning Tel Aviv as the symbolic center of the Yishuv.

In 1932, when a committee convened to select a name for the celebration, some 253 submissions were tendered, including suggestions from some of the leading personalities of Eretz Yisrael at the time. Some examples include a proposal by Chaim Nachman Bialik to call it “Pura,” a bid by Hebrew poet Saul Tchernichovsky to name it “Astoret,” and a suggestion by Israeli poet and editor Avraham Shlonsky to call it “Tzahalula.”

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The name Adloyada, which was proposed by writer Isaac Dov Berkowitz and ultimately accepted by the committee, comes from the Talmud, which states that one should revel on Purim by drinking until “it is impossible to know (ad delo yada) the difference between ‘blessed be Mordechai’ and ‘cursed be Haman.’” However, leading halachic authorities do not interpret this directive to mean actually getting intoxicated, which is always unbecoming for a Jew, if not an actual transgression.

The first costume parade was conceived by Abraham Aldema (originally Eisenstein), an artist who taught drawing at the Tel Aviv gymnasium and who had made aliyah from Ukraine (1906) to Eretz Yisrael, where he helped found the “Lovers of the Hebrew Stage” theater.

The first Adloyada was held in Tel Aviv on Purim 1912, three years after the founding of the city. The beautiful parade, which became an annual tradition, featured giant puppets, a children’s orchestra, and hundreds of children dressed in colorful Purim costumes. Aldema writes in his diary:

In 1912, I organized by myself the first Purim Parade. At first we called it simply a procession. I arranged all the Herzliya students in columns of three, and at the head of the parade there was a student dressed as Mordechai riding a white horse. Another student who was dressed as Haman led the horse by its halter. There were also other characters: Esther dressed in luxurious clothes, the fat Ahasuerus, and other figures from the Book of Esther, all dressed in the appropriate traditional Purim costumes.

Since all of Tel Aviv at that time was little more than just one street, determining the procession route was not very difficult. Therefore, we began to march from the Gymnasia along Herzl Street until its end (about near the loan and savings bank, a distance of only about 350 meters). We walked and sang the whole way, with the residents of Tel Aviv, then no more than just a neighborhood, applauding us. We walked the entire length of Herzl St and then back to the Gymnasia. When we returned, [Tel Aviv mayor] Dizengoff approached me, patted me on the shoulder and said: Aldema, you did a great thing; I want you to conduct processions like that every year.

Copy of 1955 poster for reinstated Adloyada.

The length of the first parade route was only about 1,200 feet. In subsequent years, it had to be extended because the municipality significantly expanded northward and the route had to accommodate many more tens of thousands of observers and participants. As such, the route was lengthened and soon moved to Allenby Street and later to Ibn Gvirol in 1955.

Lamenting the lack of any overarching theme in the Adloyadas, Dizengoff wrote to various artists:

This [Purim] carnival attracts large numbers of people but, to our regret, we must admit that last year it had no content, neither historic nor artistic. I would be very glad if you would agree to introduce a theme into the carnival, something that would satisfy every requirement, insofar as art, beauty, and history are concerned. It would be a good idea, for example, if we could arrange parades based upon the Holy Scriptures, the Bible and Jewish history in general…

As a result, the Adloyadas thereafter featured specific themes including, for example, “10 years of the National Home” (1928) and “the tribes of Israel” (1934). In 1929, the theme was “revival of the language, the revival of the people,” as the Gud Meginei Hasafa (the “battalion for the defense of the language”) featured a “Tower of Babel,” a tower on top of a horse-drawn cart.

The 1923 Adloyada parade began with the reading of Megillat Esther in the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street. Athletes walked along the streets and announced, to the blare of trumpets and the roar of multitudes, the parade of “Queen Esther,” who arrived wearing royal garb and her crown at City Hall, where the mayor escorted her to the balcony overlooking the square and proclaimed her queen of the city.

The next day, Mayor Dizengoff, decked out in top hat and cane, led the parade on horseback accompanied by mounted attendants followed by “Queen Esther” in a lavishly decorated “royal carriage.” Following behind were other characters from the Megillah, figures representing the tribes of Israel, and wagons carrying and toting assorted floats.

The Adloyada, which generally focused on Mordechai and Queen Esther, rarely featured Haman until the rise of Hitler, who became a contemporary metaphor for Haman. Thus, the 1933 Adloyada featured a puppet of Hitler on horseback wearing a sign urging all to “kill the Jews.” The dummy drew a protest from the German Consul in Jerusalem, who sent a strong letter of complaint to Mayor Dizengoff, but the mayor stood firm and refused to apologize. Moreover, the Adloyada the following year pointedly stuck a finger in Germany’s eye by featuring a huge doll with a three-headed dragon sporting a large swastika on its back.

The highlight of the 1935 Adloyada was a raucous “public trial” in which the “defendant” was a colossal puppet and a “panel of judges” consisting of Chaim Weizmann, Meir Dizengoff, Menachem Ussishkin, and Yehoshua Hankin “convicted” the monster of fraud, dissipation of public wealth, and undoing the important successes of the early Eretz Yisrael pioneers.

Dizengoff, determined to institute the parade as an annual event, promised the organizers that he would allocate specific funds to sponsor future Adloyadas. The festivities were held on every Purim until 1936, except for a few years during World War I and 1930, following the monstrous Arab riots and massacres in Chevron and across Eretz Yisrael the previous year.

The Adloyada came to an end in 1936 for three reasons: first, because a joyous public celebration was inappropriate in the face of the dire situation of German and Eastern European Jewry due to the looming Holocaust; second, because curfew and other restrictions imposed by the British mandatory authority precluded festivities; and, finally, because of financial difficulties and the death of Dizengoff, the Adloyada’s greatest champion.

The Adloyadas were sponsored by the Jewish Workers’ Fund of the Mapai (Labor) Party from 1921 to 1925; by the Jewish National Fund from 1925 to 1928; and thereafter by the Tel Aviv municipality until 1936 until, as discussed, budgetary challenges arose. The Tel Aviv Adloyada, which was joyously reinstated in 1955, featured some 300 floats. It continued until the 1970s, when it was moved to Holon until the early 1980s, when the tradition was revived in Tel Aviv. Today, the term “Adloyada” has come to broadly include any Purim parade held in Israel.

Dizengoff – who, in a delicious irony, was born on Shushan Purim – led the annual parades sitting proudly astride his beloved horse, Mehira (Hebrew for “swift”). In this historic February 18, 1931 correspondence on his Mayor of Tel-Aviv letterhead, he writes to the head of the Chadera Moshava:

Dizengoff letter re 1931 Adloyada.

The program for the Purim Chagiga [festivities] has allocated space for a parade of riders from all the Jewish Moshavot [colonies]. We hereby permit, because this is necessary to facilitate a beautiful scene, for a procession of young riders at the head of the community, and at their head – the well-known rider, Mr. Avraham Shapira from Petach Tikva.

Mr. A. Shapira kindly advised us of his consent to participate in this, together with the riders from Petach Tikvah. Rishon L’Tzion also has joined.

We hereby request that you decide on the participation of the youth of your Moshav, as they are included in the procession discussed above, and please give your decision to the letter bearer, Mr. Chaim Lebowitz.

Copy of photo of Dizengoff and Avraham Shapira astride their horses at the 1931 Adloyada.

One of Israel’s most colorful early characters, Shapira (1870-1965) – better known as Zkan HaShomrim (“The Eldest of the Jewish Guards,” the first self-defense force of the Yishuv) – was a legendary hero of the First Aliyah. In one famous incident, he led a successful defense of his settlement against an Arab attack when the colonists were on their way to synagogue for Friday evening Sabbath services (May 1921). Much admired by Chaim Weizmann, he came to symbolize the new generation growing up in a new homeland: fearless, proud, and independent.

The Adloyada and accompanying celebrations were often the subject of spoofs and beautiful poems. Shown here is a lovely example of the latter, a poem written by Tzvi Gordon from Rishon L’Tzion, Adar Bet, 1932. (As is the case with almost all Hebrew poetry, which manifests its own sublime character and splendor, much of this poem’s beauty is lost in the translation):

Poor am I, a lowly beggar,
out of luck, full of shame.
The heck with it! Today is Purim,
the holiday of the Adloyada!

On shirts and on every lapel,
on every arm and bracelet,
waves and adorns
the Purim Adloyada…

A cup of wine, the Prince of Spirits,
arise to lemonade!
Hashem lives for me, hooray for the holiday,
the “Baron” (also: “the joy of”) Adloyada.

The fiction of the beauty of Italy,
the futility of the Canadian landscape.
It is the Garden of Eden to us:
the Land of the Adloyada,

A pounding heart, desired by women,
to children: chocolate!
My eyes are greatly widened,
by the enchanted Adloyada.

In the morning – I will voice a song,
and in the evening – a serenade.
To the humble and devout
“alongside” the Adloyada.

In France, there is [name of opera?],
in Japan – the Mikado.
Dizengoff rules alone,
the chief officer of the Adloyada.

All praise to the Committee
that birthed this great wonder.
Pleasant fruit that lasts forever
the symbol of the Adloyada.

The armed forces of Betar are hemorrhaging,
the contemptible Fishman Group.
May it grow ever greater and become sanctified,
the flag of the Adloyada!

Unlike carnivals in other countries, which were known for their licentiousness and violence, the Adloyadas were characterized by proper behavior. The municipalities in Eretz Yisrael published sets of Purim rules for proper conduct, including a ban on costumes offensive to the Jewish faith in general and the people of Eretz Yisrael in particular. Not surprisingly, however, there were always some participants who misbehaved, usually by getting drunk in public and creating a disturbance.

Circular attacking Adloyada parades as a desecration.

As such, not everybody embraced the Adloyadas, including particularly charedi leaders, who exaggerated the “lewd and drunken” misconduct of the few participants who acted contrary to the true spirit of the celebration. The circular exhibited here – of unknown authorship, but undoubtedly issued by the Neturei Karta and/or the Edah HaChareidis – uses very strong language in characterizing Purim Adloyada parades as wholly antithetical to Torah values:

WHAT DO THE HERETICAL ZIONISTS WANT FROM US?

Why has the Zionist municipal authority in the Old City of Jerusalem arranged a licentious parade with rattling din consistent with its horrific program (which the authority was not emboldened to do until now) to draw our sons and daughters to their folly, their lustful desires, and their abominations to turn the holy day of Purim in the Old City of Jerusalem and its streets into a day of licentiousness, vacuous lewdness, and depravity?

To dissipate the holiness of this holy day and to tolerate this also in the Old City of Jerusalem, G-d forbid, [and] to sate its licentiousness through wild and wanton arrogance, G-d forbid, which will induce the hearts of all youthful hearts, G-d forbid?

Our vigor has already burst from the terrifying and fearsome challenges to our Holy Torah that these heretical Zionists roll onto us every day, and there is no day where the corruption does not exceed the previous day, and we are dispirited and shattered…

Please lift our faces. To where can we flee? Where can we hide? Draped in grief, wearing sackcloth, we are hereby publicly coming out [in protest against] the uprooting of our Holy Torah and the annihilation of our Judaism.

[And also coming out against] the desecration of G-d’s Name, and the desecration of the name of Israel, and the desecration of the holiness of Jerusalem, our Holy City.

And may Hashem the good be cognizant of our suffering and have compassion for us, and bring us from tragedy to comfort, from darkness to light, from enslavement to redemption, and may the month that was overturned for us from mourning to Yom Tov [i.e., the month of Adar] be for us a Yom Tov of delight and joy, and may we merit to the absolute redemption through the coming of our righteous Messiah, speedily and in our days, amen.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Purim!

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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at saul.singer@verizon.net.