Israel begins celebrations of its auspicious 70th year of existence this evening at sundown, after Memorial Day comes to a close.
While the West recognizes the calendar date of May 14 as the anniversary of the Israel’s declaration of independence, Israel celebrates the Hebrew date, 5 Iyar, as Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, which begins this year on April 18 at sundown. The day of raucous celebration is always preceded by a day mourning and remembering Israel’s fallen, on Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron.
As the holiday draws near, motorists adorn their vehicles with Israeli flags and residents hang them from their windows.
This year, with a wary eye on Iran’s nuclear build-up, the Syrian civil war and daily demonstrations by Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel border in the South, Israelis will celebrate on Wednesday night with street concerts, beach parties and public dancing that will take place around the country. Fireworks shows will go on until midnight at various locations.
Wednesday evening’s official, televised ceremony to be held at nightfall on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem includes the lighting of 12 torches by citizens honored for their outstanding contribution to the nation.
Officials in Jerusalem placed a special emphasis on the capital city’s festivities for Israel’s 70th. In addition to a plethora of concerts and dance parties the capital will feature “festive prayers” at the Western Wall and plays — some even geared toward children — at several locations in the city center.
“It is wonderful to be celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary in Israel’s capital,” said Jerusalem Development Authority Director of Tourism Ilanit Melchior. “It follows the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem. Yom Ha’atzmaut is always a special time and we look forward to welcoming both Israelis and tourists to Jerusalem to enjoy the festivities taking place throughout the city.”
On Thursday, nearly the entire nation is privy to an airshow by the Israeli military. Fighter planes and other aircraft flying in formation make a swing through most of the country’s skies.
Nationwide, the unofficial tradition marking Independence Day is outdoor barbecuing. Parks will be filled to capacity on Thursday with Israelis picnicking from early morning till evening.
Another Israeli tradition is the International Bible Quiz that takes places annually on Independence Day. Broadcast on national television, the contest brings together Jewish young people, 14 to 18 years old, from around the world to be tested on their knowledge of the Bible.
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”