Israel begins its 68th Independence Day celebrations tonight. Festivities will continue throughout the day on Thursday across the country.
Each year, Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day – begins immediately following Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, in memory of fallen soldiers and victims of terror. This switch from somber remembrance to joyous celebration helps serve as a reminder that the State of Israel owes its existence to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
This remarkable ability to grieve for the fallen and then rejoice in the miracle of the Jewish State is manifest in State of Israel, where the people continue to look to the future.
The state ceremony that brings in Yom Ha’atzmaut takes place at Mount Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery, by the grave of Theodor Herzl, a founder of Modern Zionism. The flag, which was at half mast for Yom HaZikaron, is raised to the top of the pole. As always, the celebration includes soldiers marching with flags creating many formations, hundreds of dancers, many screens and, of course, fireworks. The program is televised on Israeli channels.
In Jerusalem, festive prayers are held at the Western Wall, followed by live music and dancing. Mahane Yehuda, known as the shuk, is an outdoor market by day and a popular center for nightlife. On the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut, many of the bars and restaurants host their own events, thus creating one big party throughout the shuk’s alleyways.
Many museums and cultural institutions across the country open their doors to the public during, and there is a wide variety of events and activities for families. A most popular tradition for Israelis is to barbecue and go hiking in nature reserves. Parks are packed with people grilling their meat as a thanksgiving for the State of Israel.
Another popular event on Yom Ha’atzmaut is the annual International Bible Contest, a worldwide competition on the Tanach (Jewish Bible) for high-school students held at the Jerusalem Theater. The competition, broadcast live on Israeli TV and radio, is sponsored by the Israeli government and in most cases is attended by the prime minister.
In fact, in 2010 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Avner was the winner. A separate contest is held for adults and was the brainchild of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.
Religious Zionist Jews in Israel and the world recite Hallel (Psalms of Praise) that are said on other joyous festivals throughout the year, such as Passover.
(By United with Israel Staff with files from itraveljerusalem.com)