Israel at 69: Memorial Turns to Celebration

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.

As night falls, bringing relief from the pain of remembrance, 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.

Photo: © Judy Lash Balint. All rights reserved

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” a 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.

Photo: © Judy Lash Balint. All rights reserved

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 Safra Square feature Israel’s most popular entertainers. The plaza in Safra Square, home of the municipality, is set aside for traditional Israeli dancing.

In the meantime, the official Independence Day opening ceremonies get underway at Mount Herzl, adjacent to the military cemetery that was the scene of the bereaved grieving over the graves of their loved ones only hours earlier.

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 11:30 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 2017 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 and gratitude that Israel has made it to 69 .

 

Judy Lash Balint

Posted by Judy Lash Balint

​Judy Lash Balint is a Jerusalem based writer and photographer. She is the author of two volumes of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times​ (Gefen & Xulon Press) and blogs at http://jerusalemdiaries.blogspot.co.il/ Judy hosted the Jerusalem Diaries Show on Voice of Israel between 2014-2015.

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