Taking the fifth on Yom Ha'atzmaut

Setting one day for holiday would lessen memory of actual date of Ben-Gurion's declaration.

Yom Haatzmaut celebrations 8 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Yom Haatzmaut celebrations 8
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This past Monday was Memorial Day in the US. Starting in 1868, the country started observing the holiday on May 30. But a century later, on June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend.
The bill moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. However, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocate returning to the original date. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day address: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."
In Israel, the observance of its memorial day, Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day), is anything but nonchalant. The date on the Hebrew calendar is not fixed in itself but instead observed on the day preceding Israel's Independence Day.
Israel's Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) is on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, the date on which David Ben-Gurion declared independence (May 15, 1948). Under a rule that has been followed since 1951, when the fifth of Iyar falls on Friday or Shabbat (in fact, Ben-Gurion's declaration was on a Friday) Yom Ha'atzmaut is celebrated on the preceding Thursday, in order to avoid conflict with the Shabbat.
Additionally, in 2004 another rule was imposed. If the fifth of Iyar is on a Monday, Independence Day is postponed to Tuesday, in order to avoid potential violation of Shabbat laws by preparing for Yom Hazikaron or Yom Ha'atzmaut on the preceding Shabbat.
In the Hebrew calendar, the fifth of Iyar can only fall on four specific days of the week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Shabbat. As mentioned above, in three of those cases Independence Day is observed on a different date. Only if the fifth of Iyar falls on a Wednesday does the country actually celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut on its original date, the fifth of Iyar.
Well, that was true until now. The Knesset is in the midst of passing a new law establishing that Yom Ha'atzmaut will always be celebrated on a Thursday each year. Assuming the law passes — and it is expected to pass easily — Independence Day would fall on the Thursday of the week in which the fifth of Iyar falls, and Yom Hazikaron would then always be on a Wednesday.
Proponents of the bill say that it won't cost the state anything and would make it easier for employers and municipalities to prepare for the holiday. Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov also said that the bill “will prevent special vacation days in the middle of the week, which are disruptive to the Israeli market.”
Meseznikov added that the legislation would make it easier for bereaved families to prepare for Remembrance Day, which would always fall on a Wednesday.
Perhaps the biggest winners are members of the general public in Israel. Permanently moving Yom Ha'atzmaut to Thursday will give Israelis an annual "three day weekend," something Americans enjoy a number of times a year.
While I personally see the logic in the move — who doesn't love a three day weekend — I am bothered by one small issue. Yom Ha'atzmaut is celebrated on the fifth of Iyar on Wednesday 28.5 percent of the time (on average, around once in every four years). Maybe it's just me, but is there nothing sacred about the fifth of Iyar? True, Independence Day already gets bumped from its original date most of the time, so what's the big deal about moving it to Thursdays permanently?
But maybe it should be a big deal. If the law is passed, the fifth of Iyar will never be observed as Independence Day again. It will be replaced by the third, fourth, sixth, or even eighth of Iyar.
The state of Israel was declared on the fifth of Iyar 64 years ago. I'm all for three-day weekends, but aren't we missing something here? At least let's hold on to the fifth of Iyar once every four years or so (whenever it falls on a Wednesday). Ok, so we wouldn't have a long "three day weekend" that year, but we also wouldn't forget the Hebrew date when David Ben-Gurion stood up and declared the independent state of Israel.
Sixty-four years ago there were those who objected to Ben-Gurion's bold decision to declare independence on that date. They felt he should wait. But our first prime minister was determined. He knew it was now or never. He knew that such a crucial act could not be delayed.
So, when should we celebrate Israel's Independence Day? Well, if you ask me, I'm taking the fifth.
The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University.