Israel celebrates 64 years of independence

Children celebrate Israel's 64th Independence Day by donning national flags. (Yehoshua Yosef/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JWN)—With the raising of the national flag on Mount Herzl from half-mast to the top of the standard on Wednesday night, the nation of Israel officially ended Remembrance Day for the Fallen and began celebrating the country’s 64th Independence Day.

As every year, the hour-long ceremony included song and dance performances, prayer, marching in formation, a keynote address by the speaker of the Knesset, the lighting of 12 torches symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel, and fireworks.

The official theme of this year’s Independence Day ceremony was “Water—The Source of Life.” Each of the torch lighters, from teens to the elderly, represented the country’s achievements in water technology, research, development, and ecology.

Rivlin’s nationally televised speech was notable for going beyond the customary feel-good references to Israel’s accomplishments to cite what he referred to as the greatest danger facing the country: fanaticism and extremism—both from without and within.

Rivlin urged the country not to take its independence as something given. “I was nine years old when the State of Israel was born,” he said. “I know that the state is not something which should be taken for granted. The flag that flies here should not be taken for granted.”

He spoke of the great advances Israel has made in the past year in many areas, and won applause by expressing the hope that Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard would be released from prison in the United States and join his countrymen in the homeland.

Rivlin then took an unconventional tack by speaking of the divisions in Israel over fundamental issues between religious and secular, rich and poor. Although he said he believes Israeli society at the ripe age of 64 is mature enough to resolve such issues, the main threat to Israel’s well-being is extremism.

“We must not fall hostage to it,” Rivlin declared, adding that the way to marginalize fanaticism is to examine our differences and air them openly.

As the ceremony concluded with the traditional display of fireworks, Israelis all over the country began celebrating the nation’s 64th birthday at scores of free outdoor concerts and shows. Independence Day celebrations will continue throughout Thursday as more than a million households take to clogged highways en route to barbecues at national parks, beaches, and forests.

Official celebrations will include a morning reception at Beit Hanassi (Israel’s White House) honoring 120 outstanding soldiers. The event traditionally includes a flyover by the Israel Air Force aerobatic team, streaming smoke in the national colors of blue and white.

Other key events on Israel’s birthday are the International Bible Quiz for Youth and the awarding of the Israel Prizes for distinguished achievement.

Many Israel Defense Forces bases will be open for tours by the public during the day, featuring demonstrations of equipment by soldiers, sailors, and air crew.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 soldiers without families—known as lone soldiers—will be able to attend mass barbecues in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park and Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Park. The events are being hosted by the Lone Soldier Center in memory of fallen soldier Michael Levin. It will cater to some 2,300 lone soldiers from 52 countries who live in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv when they are not serving with their units.