The Celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day

The original Day of Independence for Israel is May 14th, 1948 which is celebrated on the fifth day of the month of Iyar, the Hebrew date of the formal establishment of the State of Israel. The Hebrew date is the day the members of the provisional government read and signed a Declaration of Independence corresponding to the original date of May 14th 1948. On the eve of the British departure from the region, David Ben-Gurion – Israel’s primary founder – read the Declaration of Independence of the newly formed State of Israel.

“That day, Ben-Gurion sat in his living room and watched while outside in the street, the Jews of were dancing. They were dancing because they were about to realize what was one of the most remarkable and inspiring achievements in human history: A people which had been exiled from its homeland two thousand years before… but which had refused to relinquish its identity… was returning home as sovereign citizens in their own independent state” (New Essays on Zionism, “Ben-Gurion and the Return to Jewish Power,” Michael B. Oren)

The Israel War For Independence

After the Holocaust, the Jews had nowhere to go that resembled home making the need for a Jewish state crucial. Hundreds of thousands were displaced but the British rule, who had been over Palestine since 1917, refused to admit them as they wanted to maintain allied relations with the Arabs. As the tension between Jews, Arabs and the British mounted, Britain ended up handing over the issue to the United Nations. The U.N. then proposed the end of British rule and the partition of the country into Jewish and Arab states which soon led to attacks by Palestinian guerrillas. What happened after that was a civil war between Palestine’s Jews and Arabs between November 29th 1947 and May 14th 1948 when the establishment of the state of Israel was declared. The War of Independence caused heavy Israeli losses: More than 6,000 died including almost 4,000 soldiers – almost 1% of the total population. Arab loses are estimated at about 2,000 regular invading troops.

What Yom Ha’atzmaut Looks Like Today

There are actually two celebrations that take place around this time and they happen right next to each other. Yom Hazikaron is Israel’s Memorial Day which pays respect to fallen soldiers and is then closely followed by Yom Ha’atzmaut minutes after sundown, The purpose of these two celebrations back to back is to give honor to those who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of the independence of Israel’s home state. After sundown, a ceremony on Mount Herzl commences with the raising of the flag that was half mast for Yom Hazikaron at which point Israel’s president gives a speech of congratulations to those that served. Those in the military parade their flags in remembrance and an evening parade then follows with a torch lightning ceremony marking the achievements of Israel as a whole. Festivities commence all throughout the day as almost everyone has the day off to celebrate. Families enjoy hikes and picnics, shows and dancing and singing in the streets. In conclusion, the ceremony ends with a granting of ‘Israel Prize’ to those who are recognized for their contributions to the country’s culture, arts, science and humanities.

Though Yom Ha’atzmaut is a widely celebrated holiday throughout Israel, some communities have their own expression of how they want to commemorate. That being said, Yom Ha’atzmaut is one of the few times where Jewish organizations and synagogues of different ideologies and denominations come together to celebrate regardless of the traditions they choose to practice. Even American Jews celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut to express solidarity and devotion to the state of Israel. As of date there is no one way to traditionally celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut but time will signify what traditional customs will become of this celebration.