Think About It: Celebrating Independence Day

"Independence Day itself was this year, as in previous years, a rather ambivalent experience".

Israeli flags 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israeli flags 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
In recent years I find myself spending Independence Day mostly at home.
On the eve of Independence Day I watch the lighting of the beacons ceremony on TV, and then watch the fireworks on Mount Herzl from my veranda, and later in the evening the fireworks in Safra Square from my bedroom window.
The lighting of the beacons ceremony always reminds me of our greatest national shortcoming – lack of discipline and precision. Though the drill formations are undoubtedly imaginative, in North Korea or China the commander in charge would no doubt be executed for such lack of professionalism.
The problem, I believe, is an Israeli form of individualism, which also explains why we are very poor at classical ballet, and an empire when it comes to modern dance. Strangely enough, this individualism goes hand in hand with a herd instinct, which also manifests itself on Independence Day.
When I was still a teenager, in the early years of the state, I used to go out with my friends to dance on the streets on the evening before Independence Day and the annual military parade. As Haifaites we used to start the evening in the center on Mount Carmel, and then walk down on the steps to Hadar Hacarmel. This was before the popular celebrations were commercialized, with well-known singers receiving tens of thousands of shekels for singing two or three songs before moving on to the next city or town for a similar sum; before the era of plastic hammers and sprayed foam (made in China); and before youngsters believed that “having fun” meant going on a drinking binge.
On Independence Day itself, I sometimes go out for a walk, passing by hundreds, or perhaps thousands of people stuffing themselves with barbequed meat, and looking like what they really need is some physical exercise. It always amazes me that people enjoy preparing their mangalim (barbecues) in parks and open spaces in town. But people seem to be enjoying themselves. When my children were small, we used to go out with friends into the woods around Jerusalem – I guess that what one does on Independence Day also depends on the age of one’s children, and how old one is.
With regards to celebrations on Independence Day itself, I remember with fondness the Mongolian independence day celebrations in Ulan Batar – the capital of Mongolia – which I visited in July 2005.
The fireworks, performances by popular singers, and plastic hammers (made in China) in the city square, were similar to what goes on here in Israel. However, the main form of celebration is popular sports competitions, in which everyone – literally everyone, including children and senior citizens – can participate. The competitions are in local forms of sport (none of them Olympic categories), and there are separate competitions for professionals and amateurs. It is certainly a much healthier form of celebration than what we do, though there is also a lot of eating going on (and the drinking of fermented horse milk).
I guess that at this point my right-wing critics will say: “Well, what do you expect of a left-wing ‘enemy of the people’ – of course she does not enjoy Independence Day. All she and her ilk want is to give the Palestinians their own independence day, and see the Zionist endeavor go down the drain.”
Well, this is not the case. What I really dislike is being told how to celebrate, and what constitutes “fun.” I accept the fact that religious holidays have more or less fixed ceremonies and traditions, but with all due respect, Independence Day is not a religious holiday.
Since I was born before the establishment of the state, and was old enough when it happened to understand the monumental nature of the event, I certainly appreciate and value our independence, and know the cost in blood and toil that led to it, and is still being invested for its preservation. This does not mean I am pleased with everything that goes on in our state, but this is besides the point.
While for me the celebration of Independence Day itself was this year, as in previous years, a rather ambivalent experience, two days after the official celebrations I experienced what I would consider a most meaningful and satisfying form of celebration.
On Thursday, I took part in a botanical excursion in the area between Psagot and Migron in Samaria. Though I am doubtful that this area will remain within the boundaries of the State of Israel after a permanent settlement is attained with the Palestinians, I am not one of those who refuse to venture into the territories that are, after all, part of the land of our forefathers.
The group I hike with is made up of both right-wingers and left-wingers, national religious and secular, Gush Emunim settlers and Shomer Hatzair kibbutzniks.
Our love for flowers, plants, trees and the landscapes of Eretz Yisrael is what unites us, and that seems to be part of a broader shared cultural background.
The excursions occasionally involve some pretty tough hiking, and we frequently require each others’ help. In this case, we walked along a cliff that had apparently never been investigated botanically before, and had to cross a winding stream consisting mainly of the partially purified sewage water of Ramallah about half a dozen times. Everyone gave a helping hand so no one would trip and fall into the water, or tumble down from the cliff.
It was in the course of the five hours of tiring walking that I suddenly realized that this situation expressed my sense of celebrating Independence Day, despite the controversial status of the area we were walking through, and the political and religious diversity of the group. What made this so was the feeling of togetherness, and the ability to rely on each other.
To me it is this that represents the true spirit of Independence Day.The writer is a retired Knesset employee.