By: Judy Lash Balint & TJVNews.com
Hundreds of Israeli flags are in place; the Air Force has been rehearsing its formation fly-by routine for days; platforms and sound systems stand ready in the main squares in town; and there’s a discernible festive air in the Jewish state. But before Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations of the nation’s 73rd birthday take place on April 15th, Israel pays its annual tribute to those who fell in battles and terror attacks that continue to claim lives even until today.
Officially known as Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day, Yom Hazikaron takes place the day before Yom Ha’atzmaut, and the piercing siren brings the country to a complete standstill at 8 p.m., then again at 11 a.m. the next morning for two minutes of silent remembrance. The abrupt change in atmosphere between the two days is stunning and uniquely Israeli.
On Yom Hazikaron, all Israeli places of entertainment, cafes and restaurants are closed. Authorities estimate that more than 1 million Israelis visit Israel’s military cemeteries during the day.
Coming one week after Yom HaShoah commemorations marking the systematic murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, on Yom Hazikaron the state of Israel pauses to remember not the mass victims of Nazi death camps, but those Israelis who have died and continue to die, defending the state and its citizens.
Bereavement itself makes up a complete social class in Israel – close to 24,000 soldiers and civilians have died in the 73 years of statehood, leaving over 10,000 families to join the ranks of the bereaved. The central memorial ceremony takes place in Jerusalem as evening falls, and hundreds of bereaved families gather in the Western Wall plaza.
The flag at half-mast flutters in the brisk wind, and the memorial flame flickers boldly in front of the subdued crowd. The Kotel is bereft of the usual worshippers, replaced by rows and rows of men and women with profound sadness in their eyes and pain etched into their faces. The full spectrum of Israeli society is represented at the service – national religious and secular; Ashkenazi and Sephardi; rich and poor; old and young.
Towards the close of Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen, the heavy mood slowly begins to lift as Israelis emerge from the somber day to celebrate Israel’s birthday.
Taking a look back on Israel’s 73rd birthday, some interesting facts have been presented in a report on the i24 News web site. Israeli Independence Day commemorates the declaration of independence of Israel in 1948 and is the official national holiday of the state and the only official non-working day in Israel. The holiday is celebrated on the 5th of Iyar according to the Jewish calendar or is transferred to the preceding Thursday if the 5th of Iyar falls on Friday or Saturday.
The Gregorian date for the day in which Israel independence was proclaimed is May 14th, 1948 when Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion publicly read the Proclamation of the establishment of the State of Israel, and announced the end of the British Mandate in Israel.
Since the state’s inception in 1948, 3.3 million people have made aliyah to Israel. of which about 1.5 million (44.7%) have been since 1990.
On the eve of this year’s Israeli Independence Day the country is now home to a population of 9.3 million people, according to official figures released Monday by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).
The i24 News report indicated that approximately 6.9 million citizens are Jewish (approximately 74 percent), while almost 2 million are Israeli Arabs (Muslims and Christians, approximately 21 percent.) An additional 467,000 citizens–or 5 percent are–profess a different religion or none. This year, 167,000 babies were born, around 16,300 immigrants arrived in Israel and nearly 50,000 people died.
In 2030, the population of Israel is expected to reach 11.1 million; in 2040–13.2 million, and on the 100th anniversary of Israel’s independence in 2048, there are projected to be 15.2 million citizens, as was reported by i24 News.
At the end of 2019, 46 percent of the total Jewish population in the world lived in Israel; about 78 percent of Jews in Israel are “Sabras” (born in Israel). Israel’s population is young, around 28.1 percent are children aged 0-14 while 12 percent of its citizens are aged 65 and over.
“This year, the proportion of the Jewish population in the State of Israel continued to decline. CBS data underscores the strategic importance of a responsible immigration policy that will safeguard Israel’s interests as a Jewish and democratic state. These steps must be taken before it is too late and the identity of the State of Israel changes, “said lawyer Yonatan Yaakovovich, Director of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center.
The Israeli Air Force’s Yom Ha’atzmaut flyover will pass over more cities than usual this year, with the theme of the flyover being “Israeli Brotherhood,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced on April 2nd. The flyover will go over dozens of cities and locations between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Yom Ha’atzmaut which falls on Thursday.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin paid a visit to the 120 outstanding IDF soldiers during their dress rehearsal ahead of the celebrations for Israel’s 73rd Yom Haatzmaut/Independence Day celebrations in the gardens of Beit HaNasi. The event, ‘All Israel From Jerusalem’ will be broadcast on Thursday for the last time in the president’s term of office.
“I see your excited faces and I am happy we can hold this moving ceremony this year almost as normal,” said the president to the soldiers. “You are the outstanding soldiers, men and women, of the IDF, with berets of all colors, combatants, support troops, intelligence soldiers. You are, all of you together, the beautiful face of our country. We thank you, and on the morning of Yom Haatzmaut, we will spotlight you as the best of the best. Chag Sameach, my dears!” The president also thanked Lt.-Col. Oded Nahar, who will command the event for the 21st time this year.
In line with tradition, for the last time, the president will host the main celebrations on the morning of Israel’s 73rd Yom Haatzmaut with the ‘All Israel from Jerusalem’ event. The celebrations will begin with a fly-past of IAF combat aircraft, saluting the outstanding soldiers from all branches of the IDF.
The outstanding soldiers were meticulously selected by their commanders to receive the honor from the president for meaningful service and outstanding contributions to the IDF and the State of Israel. At the end of the fly-past, President Rivlin and the IDF Chief of Staff will review the soldiers. Because of coronavirus restrictions, the remainder of the event has been pre-recorded and will be followed by the live broadcast of the award ceremony to the outstanding soldiers. The entire event will be broadcast on all TV channels on the morning of Yom Haatzmaut between 9:30 and 11:05.
The first part of the broadcast, which is pre-recorded, will be hosted by Rotem Abuav and will include singers Eliad Nachum and Ester Rada as well as a special tribute to songwriter Avihu Medina. Together with the president, they will celebrate along with Israelis from around the country in a special salute to volunteers, teaching staff and medical teams.
The second part, which will be live from the gardens of Beit HaNasi, will include the award ceremony for 120 outstanding soldiers. As is customary, the president, IDF Chief of Staff and a representative of the soldiers will deliver remarks. Beit HaNasi will be broadcasting the festive event in full and on all platforms – television, radio and internet – in Israel and around the world. There will also be a YouTube link and an embed code for websites. The broadcast will be carried to TV and radio stations by the government press office’s broadcast room.
After dark on Wednesday night in Israel, hundreds of Jerusalemites dressed in blue and white stream into synagogues all over the city for special prayers of thanksgiving in honor of Independence Day.
The close of the brief prayer service is the ancient call, “Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem,” followed by a prayer of gratitude for living in the period of the beginning of the redemption and a joyful rendition of the “Shir Hama’alot” psalm sung to the tune of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.
As the congregations pour out onto the street, it’s as if a cork has been released from a bottle – all the pent-up feelings from the difficult day of remembrance give way to celebration of our continued existence in this land.
Just an hour after dark, stages are activated in neighborhoods all over the city featuring a variety of music and entertainment. Streets downtown are closed off for the night, and are taken over by the pre-teens whose idea of fun is spraying every passerby and storefront with white sticky spray.
Two main stages set up in Independence Park and in Zion Square feature Israel’s most popular groups. The plaza in Safra Square, home of the municipality, is set aside for traditional Israeli dancing.
An official ceremony is held every year on Mount Herzl on the eve of Yom Ha’atzma’ut. The ceremony include speeches from senior Israeli officials, an artistic part, a ritual march of soldiers carrying the Flag of Israel, forming elaborate structures (such as a Menorah, Magen David and a number which represents the age of Israel) and the lighting of twelve beacons (each for every one of the Tribes of Israel). Each year, dozens of Israeli citizens who contributed to the state, are selected to light the beacons. The annual international Bible Quiz competition finals take place after the ceremony.
The Independence Day ceremony is the closest Israel gets to a military parade. Dozens of representatives of Israel’s armed forces take part in a meticulously choreographed march set to patriotic music. The formality of the ceremony is very un-Israeli.
Buildings all over the city are adorned with massive Israeli flags. Cars sport flags flapping from every conceivable opening.
Around 10 p.m., crowds start to congregate on King George Street in anticipation of the main fireworks display that is set off from the roof of the Leonardo Plaza Hotel. In two 10-minute sessions, the sky lights up with an awesome array of pyrotechnics.
Many of the non-teen revelers head down to the Jerusalem Theater after the fireworks. The lobby is packed as hundreds join a free sing-along of Israeli classics.
The next morning, most regular folks head out to the parks and beaches for the traditional “mangal,” or barbecue. Regular radio updates report on the traffic gridlock. By mid-day, several national parks are closed because there’s just nowhere to squeeze in another vehicle.
Yom Ha’atzmaut is the one day of the Israeli year that feels like an American Sunday (Sunday is a regular work day in Israel) – a day of pure recreation with no religious obligations. No newspapers, banks or mail to take the mind off the all-important task of finding the best place to set up the portable barbecue.
When Israelis finally get to celebrate Independence Day 2021 after a somber Memorial Day, it will be with the usual mix of emotions that accompany every holiday in the State of Israel – joy and sadness, appreciation and remembrance, and above all, incredulity that Israel has made it to 73.