Israel kicked off its Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, celebrations on Wednesday evening, making the almost impossible transition from marking its Memorial Day for the IDF’s fallen soldiers and the Israeli victims of terrorism to celebrating its independence.
Memorial Day ended on Wednesday evening with the national torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem that ushered in the 71st anniversary since the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
The honored 12 torch-lighters, representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, included Dr. Salman Zarka, of the Druze village of Peki’in in the north who serves as the Director of Ziv Medical Center in Tsfat and who served in the IDF’s Medical Corps for 25 years, as well as the mothers of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists in the summer of 2014, Paralympian Moran Samuel, wounded IDF Col. Shai Siman-Tov, and Jeffrey Finkelstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, the city that was the site of a deadly anti-Semitic shooting last year.
“You, each in his or her own unique way, symbolize our Israeli spirit; the Jewish, human and strong spirit of Israeli society which has led the State to great achievements,” Minister of Culture Miri Regev told them in a meeting earlier this week.
Celebrations during the day include a reception at the President’s residence honoring 120 excelling IDF soldiers, the International Bible Contest and the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem.
The IDF opened some of its bases to the public, the Israeli Air Force will hold a special flyover across the country, while the prevalent public display of celebration is the traditional Yom Ha’atzmaut picnics and barbecues.
This year, the IAF flyover will pass over the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip and the southern communities, an expression of the IDF’s appreciation to the residents of the south for their steadfastness and resilience during the last days of the fighting, during which they were bombarded with 700 rockets from Gaza, and over the years.
Similarly, Independence Day has the status of a minor Jewish holiday on which the Hallel is recited and joyous prayers are held to thank God for the miracle that is the Jewish state.
The theme for Israel’s 71st anniversary is “Saluting the Israeli Spirit.”
Chosen by the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, the theme “celebrates the unique Israeli spirit as expressed by the establishment of the State of Israel: overcoming difficulties against all odds.”
“The same spirit continues to motivate many Israelis to overcome difficulties, to excel, to succeed, and to transform personal hardship into an engine for activity and growth, inspiring society and contributing to a better Israel,” the description of the theme says.