Israel celebrates 71 years of independence in style

Keeping with tradition, many watched on television as Israel's most impressive and inspiring citizens were honored at the annual, star-studded torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl.

Teli Esther Raphael enjoys Indepence Day celebrations in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Teli Esther Raphael enjoys Indepence Day celebrations in Jerusalem
As the sun set on Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening, the pain and sorrow of commemorating fallen friends and family dramatically gave way to joy and celebration as Israel marked 71 years of independence.
Keeping with tradition, many watched on television as Israel’s most impressive and inspiring citizens were honored at the annual star-studded torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.
Hours of rehearsals by flag-bearing IDF officers paid off with an ambitious demonstration of Israeli achievements, forming symbols ranging from agricultural innovation to military strength and SpaceIL’s recent effort to reach the Moon.
They were joined on the ceremony floor by 120 outstanding soldiers, honored by President Reuven Rivlin for their exceptional contributions to the IDF.
From Eilat to Kiryat Shmona, millions participated in Israel’s largest annual street party, relishing the sharp transition from remembrance to rapture that is unique to the Jewish state.
Music, food and drink, flags and copious amounts of silly string and foam, which have become a frequent sight in recent years, accompanied the party-goers.
From the Western Wall to Ben Yehuda Street, residents of Jerusalem partied in their masses, dancing and singing at all of the city’s key sites. Leading artists, including Hatikva 6 and Sarit Hadad, took to the stage to perform their most upbeat hits at the aptly-named Independence Park, Zion Square and Safra Square. There were, of course, fireworks too.
Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, the regular venue for both the country’s celebrations and commemorations, came to life with a Eurovision-themed Independence Day celebration as the city warms up for next week’s song contest. Three long sets of fireworks and veteran band Hadag Nahash were among the key attractions at the iconic plaza.
Many Tel Aviv residents chose to celebrate along the city’s famous Rothschild Boulevard, which was transformed into a sea of blue and white by the revelers until the early hours of the morning.
With the sun shining and a gentle breeze, Israelis across the country looked to the skies on Thursday afternoon to enjoy the popular flyby by the Israeli Air Force.
Many Israelis competed for a prime location all along the coast as an array of fighter jets, helicopters, transport and trainer aircraft were on show, with some jets wowing the crowd with well-rehearsed aerobatics.
Recognizing the steadfastness of Israel’s South amid recent escalations of violence in the Gaza Strip, the IAF held an additional salute for the residents of southern communities.
The annual salute was not limited just to showcasing Israel’s aerial prowess. At 11 a.m., approximately 150 yachts and boats set sail from Herzliya Marina toward Tel Aviv. Also getting into the Eurovision Song Contest spirit, many of the boats were decorated in the colors of the flags of the 42 countries competing in Eurovision 2019.
As the flyby and flotilla reached their conclusion, the traditional aroma of celebrating independence wafted through the air: the smell of barbecues. On building rooftops, gardens, balconies and parks, families and friends gathered together in almost every available space to cook, eat and drink.
With no work until Sunday for most of those celebrating, many will have likely returned home feeling that far too much food and beverage had been consumed.
Like many others who embraced the warm weather, recent immigrant Roxy Kaye told The Jerusalem Post that she spent much of her first Independence Day as an Israeli citizen soaking up the sun on the beach in Tel Aviv.
“The atmosphere here over the past couple of days culminating in today’s celebrations will be an experience I’ll never forget,” said London-born Kaye, who moved to Israel in October 2018.
“What a way it has been to spend my first Independence Day, feeling just like an Israeli,” she said.
In Jerusalem, approximately 6,000 young Jews from 40 countries who arrived in Israel after participating in March of the Living, which commenced last week in Poland, celebrated Independence Day by walking from Jerusalem’s Safra Square to the Western Wall.
“A week ago, we marched on the railroad that led a million-and-a-half Jews to their deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau,” said March of the Living chairman Dr. Shmuel Rosenman. “Today, we are telling the story of the wondrous rebirth and miracle that is the State of Israel.”
Many families also took the opportunity to visit more than 200 nature reserves and 70 national parks across the country. For those seeking an educational experience, 71 heritage centers nationwide opened their doors to visitors free of charge.
Sites included Ammunition Hill, Ben-Gurion’s Home at Sde Boker and the Tower of David Museum. Long traffic jams were reported in almost every direction as Israelis took full advantage of the day off work and school.