Hundreds of Jerusalem residents gathered at Sacher Park to celebrate Israel’s 65th year of independence on a brisk April day, amid a backdrop of fragrant barbecues, kites flying, children playing and a shared sense of gratitude.

“Sixty-five is a milestone,” said Avi Margolin, a tour guide, formerly from Piedmont, California, who made aliya nine years ago and attended a barbecue at the park with fiancé, Yael Gluck and several friends.

“Every milestone we celebrate in Israel gives people hope that we can celebrate the next [one],” he added.

Gluck, who studies biology at Hebrew University, and made aliya from Chicago nearly five years ago, also expressed gratitude in observing another anniversary of statehood.

“It’s especially significant how Israel’s Independence Day comes immediately after Memorial Day because you can’t celebrate Independence Day without acknowledging the sacrifice soldiers made to make today a reality,” she said.

“What greater Independence Day can you have other than celebrating the dead for their contributions?” Marc Neugroeschnel, a graduate student of sociology at HU, originally from Aachen, Germany, said Independence Day reminds him why he made aliya 12 years ago.

“Once you get into an everyday routine here you tend to forget about why you came in the first place,” he said. “But, when you celebrate Independence Day it reminds you why you came here – which is because you feel a special relationship with Israel and want to actualize it.”

Indeed, Matt Churchill concurred that Independence Day also made him reminisce about why he decided to make aliya 10 years ago.

“I remember what made me want to come to Israel,” he said. “I was in college and went to hear Eli Wiesel speak, and they started with the “Hatikva” [Israel’s national anthem], and it hit me on an emotional level.”

Churchill continued, “Everyone stood up, and I knew [the anthem] having sung it hundreds of times, but this time it made me feel like there’s a whole world out there that I’m not a part of and it really inspired me to go deeper into Jewish study and the history of Israel. It was one of those key moments that made me decide that I had to be a part of Israel.”

Churchill, the father of a newborn boy, added that despite having spent nearly one-third of his life in the country, he felt a renewed sense of gratitude on Independence Day to be living here.

“I’m more deeply appreciative about being here than ever before, especially on Independence Day, because of the sacrifice and service of the soldiers,” he said. “I feel very indebted to those who laid down their lives for this country, many of whom [had] just survived the Holocaust.”

He then paused, before adding, “I just hope to make my own contribution one day.”

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