Adam and Abraham Yakin at home in Jerusalem Adam and Abraham Yakin at home in Jerusalem Adam and Abraham Yakin have more than 100 years experience in puppetry between them. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

Meet the 2 Gepettos of Jerusalem

This father-son team has a century's worth of experience making masks and puppets.

Abraham Yakin has been a successful artist for a very long time.

"I made my first mask when I was 8 and I sold that first mask when I was 8," he told From The Grapevine during a visit to his home in Jerusalem.

At 92, and with his work in major institutions like the Israel Museum, he continues his tireless output, often in collaboration with his son Adam, one of Israel's foremost puppeteers.

Theirs has proven a most personal and productive relationship.

Abraham Yakin at home with a mask.Abraham Yakin inspecting one of his many masks at home in Jerusalem. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

Yakin lives in the same home that he was born in, built 130 years ago by his grandfather.

When his eight children were young, it doubled as a family home and cultural center.

"We would put on shows all the time with our kids, making masks and performing. Kids from the whole neighborhood would come over," he said.

He also exposed them to the same mediums he has worked with throughout his career: painting, sculpture, drawing and mixed media.

This creative atmosphere proved to be a great influence on Adam, who decided as a teenager to become a puppeteer.

Abraham Yakin wearing one of his masks.Abraham Yakin demonstrates his ability to disappear behind his masks. His artwork and family photos hang in the background. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

Today Adam lives at the family home, now a multi-unit compound that houses his parents and several siblings.

In Israel Adam is best known for his use of giant puppets, some rising as high as 30 feet. Most of these are built by the carnival arts department at the Puppet Theatre Center in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, and the school where Adam teaches.

The puppets are used by his students and by actors at the Dancing Ram Theatre, a performance company Adam founded in 2010. Others have gained popularity – as have Adam and Abraham – for their appearance in Jerusalem's central market, Mahane Yehuda, where arts festivals are often held.

Adam Yakin wears a donkey puppet on his head.Over time, Adam Yakin says his puppets take on a life of their own. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

While the two have collaborated extensively over the past two decades, they do differ stylistically.

"My puppets are more characters. I want them to be able to display a full range of human emotions. My father's are more decorative," he explained.

The materials the two use also differ.

"I prefer to use paper because of the malleability and texture. My father prefers leather," he tells us.

The passion the two exhibit for the art form is obvious. As they slip in and out of different masks at their home, they disappear behind the characters.

"It's the mask or puppet that is important, that is the character," Adam explained. "The actor portraying that character is insignificant."

A large elephant puppet parades down an israeli street.One of the large puppets, this one an elephant, built by Adam Yakin and his students. (Photo: Dancing Ram Theatre)

Adam, who has traveled all over the world to perform and has taught at the University of Memphis, admits that despite the small size of Israel's puppetry community, it's the most creative of any he's seen.

"It's like a family. There's a real creative energy and freedom here," he said.

A recent production conceived by Adam and Abraham, the "Citadel of Golems," received particular attention because of the oversized paper puppets used. Abraham, pushing 90 at the time of the show's debut, was one of the main puppet builders and played the role of the prophet creator and destroyer of the Golem.

Image from a show of Citadel of the Golems.Adam and Abraham Yakin collaborated on a recent play, which involved making oversized puppets out of newspaper. Abraham, nearing ninety at the time, was one of the show's stars. (Photo: Dancing Ram Theatre Facebook)

And while Adam says working together hasn't always been rosy – with disagreements about direction popping up from time to time – it's altogether been a blessing for him, a sentiment Abraham echoes.

"Whenever I can combine art with my family it is a joy for me," he said.


Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows
Meet the 2 Gepettos of Jerusalem
Abraham and Adam Yakin are Israel's foremost puppetry team.