Barbecues, fireworks and blow-up hammers mark Israel's 60th

"I thought it was cool that there were so many Americans here celebrating along with the Israelis."

fireworks 88 (photo credit: )
fireworks 88
(photo credit: )
Hordes of Independence Day celebrants crowded on Rehov Ben Yehuda in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday night, with a broad mix of tourists, youth groups and regular Israelis. "It was a lot of fun - very exciting," said Jerusalem resident Kenny Gerber, 22. "Things were very bubbly, crazy and energetic." With a large stage towering from the tip of Ben Yehuda and out across Jaffa Road, shutting down all traffic, the only thing missing from this circus was a back-alley sideshow. "The entire atmosphere - it's really, really nice," said Iva Litvak, 22, also a Jerusalem resident. "It definitely felt like a celebration." Across the country on Thursday, Israelis held barbecues in backyards and public parks, and were entertained by naval parades and the annual International Bible Quiz. Spirits were flying especially high on Ben- Yehuda Wednesday night, as energized Americans floated through the streets wide-eyed. Most draped Israeli flags across their chests and backs, wearing light-up dog ears and Star-of-David-shaped balloon hats. "I thought it was cool that there were so many Americans here celebrating along with the Israelis," said Amihai Freed, 20, a Beersheba resident who made his way to Jerusalem to enjoy the festivities. He said there almost seemed to be more groups of Americans than Israelis. "The main language I heard on the street was English," Freed said. Freed was also amazed by the high levels of camaraderie. "There were tons of random people saying 'Hag Sameah,'" Freed said. Various smells of food carried up the street, leading the nose to tables filled with roasting hot dogs, sizzling beef patties and pounds of cashews and peanuts. Surging shouts of "Sugar and candy!" echoed down the street as patrons crowded around shiny tin basins that spun large puffs of the cottony treat. "I was very impressed with the food - they gave a lot and people weren't stingy," Gerber said. And if the food wasn't enough, the plethora of toys and blow-up hammers undoubtedly pushed partiers into a frenzy. By 10 p.m., Israeli kids and teenagers stormed down the streets bopping passersby on the head with the inflatable Star-of-David-etched hammers. Each bop made a cartoon-style honking noise, typically leaving both parties with smiles on their faces. Freed said that most people didn't have a problem with the toy hammers and piles of fake white snow. "I thought it was good, I can understand people not liking it, but I thought it was all part of the celebration and atmosphere," he said. Litvak, an American, also said she thought the hijinks were purely festive. "Even though I got some of it on me, people were having fun," she said. Freed and Litvak agreed that the most exciting part of the night for them was the fireworks and laser light show. "Everyone was really into the light show; there was a lot of pride," Gerber said. But not everything went off without a hitch. Gerber said that the sheer number of people led to problems on the street. "There was a lot of pushing," he said. "In some places it felt like a rock concert." Despite this, he was proud to be among the natives, saying "people came out and really connected." During celebrations Thursday, a parachutist accidentally landed in a crowd during a festive skydive, seriously injuring three spectators on a Tel Aviv beach where crowds gathered to watch. Meanwhile, the IDF organized a series of events across the country, opening up army, naval and air force bases to the public. The central event, which took place across from the Jerusalem Beach, included an air show of IAF planes and helicopters and a naval exhibition. Independence Day celebrations began with the traditional torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl on Wednesday night, and concluded with the awarding of the Israel Prizes at the Jerusalem Theater on Thursday night. AP and staff contributed to this report.