Independence Day fireworks 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Independence Day celebrations commenced on Tuesday night with the annual torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl.
In a video address to the ceremony, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the transition from Remembrance Day was "not easy," but was full of meaning for Israelis.
He said Israel had overcome "huge obstacles," and on Independence Day, Israelis were celebrating "the fulfillment for our common dream."
The prime minister also sent out a special greeting to Tel Aviv, which is celebrating its 100th year, calling it a "great, universal city, which is a metropolis for millions."
"But first and foremost," he said, "Tel Aviv is the first Hebrew city." Opening the ceremony, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said, "We have come once again to this hill - on one side the grave of the prophet [of Zionism], on the other the graves of our children - to talk again of the Exodus, to remind ourselves once again from where we came, and where, with the grace of God, with the blood of our children and with the sweat of our brow, we have succeeded in reaching so far."
Rivlin spoke of the apt juxtaposition of Remembrance Day and Independence Day, calling the former the "purest preparation" for the joy of the latter.
"Our independence festival is so moving because each one of us feels how the evening's song of praise breaks through the grief of the day's remembrance," he added. "The tears of pride of each one of us here, on this hill of national memory, and wherever an Israeli heart beats at this special moment, when the flag is raised from half mast - at that moment, when we pass from one holy time to the next, from Yizkor, the memorial prayer, to Hallel, the prayer of praise - those tears of pride tell the real story of this day and prove to us how deeply rooted this day is within our hearts."
The Knesset speaker went on to say that the day's narrative was not only the story of 1948, but also of the 2009 generation, which he said continued to pay the price for Israel's liberty.
"Just recently, we watched with deep emotion those heroic fighters who risked their lives in Operation Cast Lead," he continued. "We were choked up at the sight of those noble figures who live here among us, here and now in Israel of 2009."
Rivlin said that Israel of 2009 was no less impressive than Israel of 1949.
"It is more democratic, more open and also more Jewish in both identity and culture; it is more tolerant, far more sophisticated, and a little less demagogic," he said. "Families now are less often torn apart by arguments over Ihud or Me'uhad" - a reference to ideological divisions in the Kibbutz Movement - "and more often because of the Hapoel, Maccabi or Betar soccer teams, although politics can still stir things up, and rightly so.
"Israel of 2009 may be less ideological - but there are more idealists. Their ideology may be less clearly formulated, less intense, but it is more human, more loving, more closely attuned to the hearts of people."
He said that while most Israelis were less committed to the slogans of the past, they were no less Zionist or Israeli.
"I believe that this ideological dynamic does not indicate that we are less principled than we were a generation or two ago; rather, it proves that we have here today, too, exceptional powers of vitality, of original thought, of thinking outside the box, of creativity that breaks through boundaries," he said. "I believe that this additional element has been the secret of our existence as a nation for thousands of years now and is also the secret of our survival here in this turbulent land.
"This element, which caused the Zionist revolution to happen and enabled us, against all odds, to establish our state; which everyone regards as a wonder - both those that love us and those that hate us - still remains vibrantly alive here today," he said.
He declared that Independence Day did not just mark "the number of years that have passed since the day the high commissioner rolled up the Union Jack and sailed for home," but that it was "recharged each year with new meanings, new values - each generation and its values, each generation and its needs."
The Knesset speaker then lit the first of 12 beacons and paid tribute to his parents and his ancestor the Vilna Ga'on, as well as to residents of Sderot, Ashkelon, and the Gaza border communities, whom he called "unwilling heroes for eight years and more."
He also said he was lighting the beacon in honor of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, and said Israel never forgets "that the narrative of Independence Day is also the narrative of the oath of loyalty between the state and its soldiers."