I close my eyes and focus on the electricity in the air. Before I can take in the delightful ambiance, I am hit in the back of the head by a plastic toy. As I turn, I see children giggling while swaying their Magen David-adorned blow-up hammers.
I have no idea what the symbolic meaning of those plastic toys is, but looking around I realize I am not the only innocent bystander being hit in the head. I laugh. It is the eve of Independence at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and I am amongst thousands celebrating Israel’s 66th year of independence and prosperity.
The fireworks go off, music starts to play and everyone around me breaks out in song and dance as performers entertain the sea of thousands dressed in blue and white. Arik Einstein’s “Ani Ve’ata” ricochets across the open space, the throng singing his lyrics “You and I can change the world” in Hebrew. It is a bizarre yet wonderful transition from the mourning and sorrow of Remembrance Day.
We are from all over the world and united in rejoicing and celebration.
Tel Aviv mother-of-two Stephanie Merdler says she has enjoyed coming to the event with her family for the past six years.
“I find it very interesting that we go into mourning hours before and we think of sadness and all the unbelievable cruelty of war,” she says. “And then within 24 hours it changes into something completely different. There is joy, there is optimism and growth. There is future. It’s amazing – we live two minutes away so of course we’ll be back every year.”
Children are playing chase, dousing one another in shaving cream and silly string. Fathers and mothers watch the screaming fireworks light up the sky with their young children balancing on their shoulders.
Nearby, youths draped in Israeli flags chug beer while chanting “Am Yisrael Chai” (The Nation of Israel lives). These are sights I never saw at my local Jewish community’s Yom Ha’azma’ut celebrations in Australia.
People of all ages are at play, dancing and rejoicing in the streets, for example Daniel Swissa, 21, who recently moved to Tel Aviv from the North.
“It is my first time being here at Kikar Rabin and I am very excited to be here, because it is a holiday that all of Israel celebrates. This is the best party of the year,” he says.
Masa program participant Ian Young, 29, of America is at Rabin Square celebrating his first Independence Day in Israel.
“To be on this piece of territory has such special meaning and it’s so special to be here for the 66th year of Israel’s independence which is incredible to begin with,” he says.
The crowd disperses in pure happiness as adults and children wave their Israeli flags with pride.
Enveloped by the festive mayhem, my hair covered in shaving cream, and donning my Israeli flag, I leave Rabin Square at 1 a.m. I think the party is over, but the frenetic energy picks up on my walk home. A disheveled man plays the drums on a set of buckets and pots and pans to Israeli trance music, modern-Orthodox men pound the streets singing for the Messiah, while Israeli folk music can still be heard in the distance back at Rabin Square.
It was a blue and white balagan (chaos) I’ll never forget.
Am Yisrael Chai!