The Rival Revelers of Tel Aviv

The origins of Tel Aviv as Purim party central begin almost a century ago with Hevre Trask, a group of anarchic merrymakers whose hijinks faced stiff competition – and even a lawsuit – from legendary man-about-town Baruch Agadati.

The high-spirited holiday of Purim and the city of Tel Aviv, complement one another perfectly — and have for almost as long as the self-proclaimed “Non-stop City” has existed. Those familiar with Tel Aviv’s history know about the Adloyada Purim parade and the man who made it famous: dancer, choreographer and bon vivant Baruch Agadati. What is less known is that the annual parade was actually started by a group called Hevre Trask (“the noisy folks”) — or that competition between the two groups of revelers at one point took an ugly turn.

As described in the book Young Tel Aviv: A Tale of Two Cities by Anat Helman: “Purim in Tel Aviv was not unbridled…. A lone, and relatively tame, exception was provided by the Trask gang. Before World War I, Avraham Aldema, a high school painting teacher, organized a group of young people who held parties, a Purim costume parade and processions in which they sang loudly and committed pranks.”

These hijinks, according to an essay by Tel Aviv historian Ilan Schori, included locking Mayor Meir Dizengoff in his office until he agreed to grant a license for a kiosk at the corner of Herzl Street and Rothschild Boulevard. The kiosk, by the way, is still there.

Prior to World War I, Schori writes, Trask were notorious for their parties where, among other things, couples actually dared to dance the Tango in public, “the last of which took place hours before the Ottoman Turkish authorities issued deportation order to the Jewish residents of Tel-Aviv. “One prominent Tel Aviv businessman expressed his outrage at the group… ‘At a time when terrible things are happening around us and one of the greatest dangers threatens to destroy us, these fellows go joking around.’”

trask
Image courtesy of the Israel Revealed to the Eye project

Hevre Trask members served in the Jewish Legions during World War I and came back to Tel Aviv with an even greater taste for anarchic merrymaking, drink and ribald humor. Writes Helman: “Following World War I, when the Yishuv experienced a recession, Aldema reconstituted the group. He and about twenty others made a practice of going out to sing in the street. Trask gradually attracted new members: artists, actors, workers, and unemployed people. The group developed original and assertive techniques in its war against snobbism [sic] and in sympathy with the city’s wretched and downhearted.”

The group also had an alternate name: “The Third Finger”. That image became their symbol.

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The poet Avraham Shlonsky, who joined the gang shortly after arriving in Tel Aviv in 1921, wrote the group’s anthem which ran in part: “To all living on [every] continent / We give the third finger / And we won’t give a hoot about anything.” (Full song lyrics in Hebrew can be found in the Schori essay).

It was during those hard economic times of the 1920s that Trask became critical of the Purim activities organized by Agadati. Things came to a head in 1928, when Trask speculated that his were money-making operations geared towards the wealthy — and printed those speculations on a poster. “We have fought for the honor of the Purim holiday on the side of merriment and happiness that stem from pure folklore and call for a boycott of the ways of moneygrubbing greed and lust that go on for three nights…”.

There was much more to the poster’s text but the upshot was a lawsuit alleging defamation of character filed by Agadati against members of Trask that was heard in the Magistrates’ Court of the British Mandate. Trask argued that this was a work of satire but the judge ruled in favor of Agadati who, in the spirit of comradeship among the Tel Aviv bohemians, paid the fine levied on Hevre Trask members. So maybe those rumors that Agadati had made a bit of money were true after all…

About Rachel Neiman

A veteran media professional who has lived in Israel since 1984, Rachel has been part of the ISRAEL21c organization since 2008. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Globes Online, the English-language edition of Israel’s leading business daily, and before that, at The Jerusalem Post, as a business reporter, feature writer, and consumer columnist. Rachel began writing about Israeli technology companies at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine and is a professional Hebrew to English translator. In her spare time, she is an active member of the Havurat Tel Aviv congregation, and the Holyland Hash House Harriers, part of an international running and drinking disorganization.