On Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, Israelis celebrated 71 years since the state was founded.
Beginning with sunset, it was obvious to visitors that this was no ordinary day. At Mamilla Mall, shops were closed and restaurants were closing early on Wednesday.
The Yizkor, Remembrance Day memorial with its floral wreath was displayed near the entrance.
By the walls of the Old City near Jaffa Gate, a large sign said ‘Happy Independence Day! 71.’
The Tower of David stood tall against the blue sky, with the setting sun reflecting gold hues upon its stones.
On Yom Ha’aztmaut there was free admittance to the Tower of David, as well as to other attractions.
Across the road, there were big signs marking the entrance to Teddy Park.
Only one problem–for security reasons, no one was allowed to enter at this entrance.
Going around to the other entrance, I saw that hundreds had already arrived.
A group of men had gathered for afternoon prayers. From Teddy Park, knowing which direction to face when you pray is easy. Jews pray towards Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and have done so for millennia.
Slow singing started at 6:00 pm. Though it was an unusually cold night for spring, thousands arrived and filled the park.
The music turned to loud and joyous as celebrations for Yom Haatzmaut began at dark.
Teddy Park was only one of many places in Jerusalem with free public music.
The list is too long for now, as neighborhoods gathered to celebrate with music and fireworks.
At First Station there was a musical prayer service
led by Rabbi Sholom Katz, and it was well attended again this year.
It was hard to get a good photo of such a large crowd.
But this short video should give you an idea of the energy.
The main state event is held on Har Herzl and is televised.
Tickets are in big demand for the open theater and stage near Herzl’s grave.
The event was held under the offices of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev.
Military colors play a major part of the program, and IDF, Fire and Police participated.
To take close up photographs of so many soldiers,
or photos from a distance is an annual dilemma.
This event might be better appreciated watching at home on TV.
The outdoor mountain setting can also be very cold and windy.
Look at screen on the upper left side of the photo, you will see that these marchers form a menorah.
Special this year, at the base of the menorah were these soldiers in wheelchairs.
The program has musical numbers with fireworks.
The popular Shalva Band performed during the program.
The program also included 12 torches representing the 12 Tribes, lit by 16 individuals who had overcome difficulties, all representing the “Spirit of Israel.”
But in spite of staying up late celebrating, tens of thousands of Israelis were off to parks during the day.
In Jerusalem, there may be fewer hikers, but there are a whole lot of grills in the parks.
This year was the first time in long time I was not in Gan Sacher, Sacher Park, for Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Riding on Israeli highways, like this one toward Modi’in, is a time to remember the old Route 1, with its single lanes winding through the Jerusalem hills.
The municipality of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut developed from nothing but barren land, and is now a thriving and growing city of over 90,000 residents.
Then Yom Ha’atzmaut, with all its grilled food, concludes with the Israel Prize ceremony.
A day which began with military honors at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence, and a Bible contest for teenagers at the Jerusalem Theater, comes to an end with Israel honoring its citizens who have contributed to various fields of knowledge or a lifetime of service for the public good.
Miri and Chaim Ehrental started Zichron Menahem after their son died of cancer. It is an organization which has helped thousands of families cope with cancer.
The laureates who accomplished so much in their fields bring honor to themselves and all Israelis.
As President Rivlin said in his Yom Haatamaut greeting, “Dear friends at home here in Israel and around the world. Happy Independence Day! Chag Sameach! Israel is seventy-one years old. Who would have believed seventy-one years ago that we would build cities from the swamps? That roads and railways would cross the sands? Who could have imagined then the wonder that is the State of Israel?”
Who would have believed, who could have imagined?
Israel at 71!