Zeppelin, Confetti and a Gramophone: How Israelis Celebrated Purim 90 Years Ago

Haaretz excitedly reported to its readers that 'people are dancing in the air' for the first time ever

A zeppelin moving across pre-Israel's skies, Jerusalem, March 28, 1931.
American Colony (Jerusalem) / Library of Congress

“This is the first time in history people are dancing in the air,” Haaretz excitedly reported to its readers as part of a huge story that filled almost the entire front page on Purim 90 years ago, March 28, 1929. “A Zeppelin over the Land of Israel” read the main headline.

A correspondent for the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported his impressions to Haaretz from the German airship that moved across the country’s skies, and described the festive mood on board. “People are chatting, writing, playing chess and cards, and some are dancing to music played on a gramophone.”

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Flying over Tel Aviv, the airship’s captains threw 30 kilograms of confetti over the celebrating city “which is how we participated in the city’s celebrations,” wrote the Al-Ahram correspondent. After all, Purim doesn’t happen every day. City residents told Haaretz that “after the Zeppelin flew overhead we found bags of confetti it had thrown down, in several locations across the city.” As it flew over city hall, “the roof of which was already illuminated with festive electric lights,” the Zeppelin sounded some greetings.

The aircraft that visited pre-state Israel had only made its maiden flight several months before. It flew at a height of 755 feet, at a speed of 62 miles per hour. With these stats, it was the most impressive airship of its kind to date. On board were 40 politicians, businessmen, celebs and journalists, on a public relations flight intended to promote tourism on such vehicles. Forty “stewards” and crew members served the passengers. On its way here, the airship flew over Marseilles, the French Riviera, the coastline of Italy, Greece and Crete.

Haaretz reported that one of the passengers, Lady Drummond-Hay (the first woman to fly around the world by air), sent a radio-telegram from the Zeppelin to the Evening Standard, in which she enthusiastically described the immense impression the Land of Israel made while she was flying over Haifa, the Carmel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as the joyous sounds made by Purim revellers.

After Tel Aviv, the Zeppelin continued to Jerusalem. “The view of the Land of Israel by the silvery light of the moon was spectacular. We saw villagers gathering to see our Zeppelin,” said the Egyptian newspaper. “The Holy City looked like something seen through a magic lantern,” it said in reporting the view of Jerusalem. From there, the airship continued to the Dead Sea, descending to within 300 feet of the water. “One passenger joked that the Zeppelin would now become a submarine. This greatly amused everyone.”