For one week in May, the Magic Castle — Hollywood’s elegant Victorian mansion-turned-prestigious magic club — will be transformed into a lively hub of Israeli culture. The exclusive and formal den of world-renowned magicians and magic enthusiasts will showcase Israeli practitioners of the illusory arts, as well as musicians and artists, and the dining menu will offer cuisine from the Holy Land in a first-time celebration of Israel.
“The Magic of Israel,” running May 3-9 in honor of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day, is the realization of a longtime dream for a magician named Hillel, also known as Mr. Balloon Man, who is a 25-year member of the Magic Castle. Combining what he calls the “universal languages” of clowning, magic and pantomime, Hillel has entertained audiences all over the world since he was young, including while he served as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. For Hillel, magic is the art of turning dreams into reality, and in the same way that it often takes years for a magician to perfect an illusion, it has taken Hillel several years to make Israel week at the Magic Castle a reality.
“We have several Israelis who are members of the Magic Castle — they call us the three Israeli musketeers,” said Hillel, who has a wild gray mane and thick Argentine accent. “So we’ve talked about doing an Israel showcase for years, but for one reason or another, it never materialized.”
Then last year, Hillel presented the idea to the board of directors, who were immediately supportive of the concept.
“I think it’s fascinating to see how different cultures approach the art of magic,” Maurice Newman, secretary of the board of directors, said. “And Judaism has a long history with magic. Magic is, in fact, rooted in kabbalah, so to see how the art is practiced in Israel will be a real treat.”
Nine Israeli magicians from around the world will take part in the “Magic of Israel” week, displaying a variety of talents and styles: Amos Levkovitch, one of the three Israeli musketeers and a two-time Magician of the Year at the Magic Castle, is considered one of the foremost practitioners of white dove magic; Shimshi is the flashy resident magician at the Wynn hotel and casino in Las Vegas; Ori Ashkenazy from Tel Aviv touts his brand as “memorable metaphoric magic” and plays with perceptions of reality and consciousness; veteran musketeer Mike Elkan has always made humor a mainstay of his act and will, no doubt, be poking fun at Israelis and Israeli culture in his role as emcee for the week; and producer Hillel, along with his wife and assistant, Leticia, will perform the stunning balloon tricks for which he is famous — one trick, in which he appears inside a huge balloon, was inspired by a dream of “going back to the womb,” he said.
In addition to the magic shows, performed in the various themed parlors, rooms and theaters of the mansion, “The Magic of Israel” will also feature music by balloon bass player Addi Somekh, one of the only musicians in the world to perfect the art of playing a bass made out of a balloon; performances by the International Sounds of Jimmy Gamliel and Yossi Levy; paintings by Nava Handelsman; sculptures by Rachel Ross; a screening of the Oscar-winning short film “West Bank Story”; and Israeli fare on the menu of the Magic Castle’s in-house restaurant.
“This week will be a unique opportunity for people to see the light, fantasy side of Israel,” said Elkan, who made his living making custom furniture but has also practiced magic his entire life. In 2005, he lost all five fingers on his left hand in a workshop accident and now performs his close-up card act one-handed. “Israelis have a great imagination and inventiveness. They bring a great deal of creativity to their magic and their presentation.”
As for Israeli audiences, they also bring with them qualities that set them apart, Elkan said. “Here in America, we do ‘magic.’ In Israel, we do ‘tricks.’ More so than other audiences, Israelis are really eager to figure out the trick — there is an inherent quality in Israelis that make them very resistant to being fooled or tricked.”
Hillel says Israelis have been rare at the club, which normally requires an invitation from a member. He hopes that the Israeli community will be excited to get dressed up — the Magic Castle has a strict dress code — and indulge in a classy night of fantasy-filled entertainment at one of Hollywood’s most storied mansions.
But spotlighting Israel at the Magic Castle is meant to do more than introduce the Israeli community to the wonders of magic, Hillel said. “We also wanted to share our Israeli culture with the membership of the club and the magic community. We’re proud of our heritage and what it brings to our magic, and we wanted to put that on display for people who may not know anything about Israel. So, in this one week, we’re bringing two communities — worlds — together.”
“The Magic of Israel” runs May 3-9 at the Magic Castle, 7001 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Tickets are $20 Monday through Thursday and Sunday, and $25 Friday and Saturday. Must be 21 or older to attend, except for Saturday and Sunday brunch performances, which are open to children. Tickets can be purchased by calling (323) 851-3313, ext. 434, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting magiccastle.com/eventtickets, using member number M8126 to log in. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended and must be made separately. Dress code is strict: evening wear for women, suit and tie for men.