Chag Atzma’ut Same’ach! Happy 71st Independence Day Israel!

It’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and, as remarked upon by both local and foreign observers, the country swings in a schizophrenic kind of way from the mourning, sorrow and remembrance of Yom Hazikaron to the flag-waving patriotism and general merry-making of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Prayers marking the transition from the mourning of Yom Hazikaron to the celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut were held in synagogues throughout the country.

This year we attended the festive prayer service in the central square of my daughter’s community of Karnei Shomron; the square was packed and people sang the psalms and prayers with great gusto. The highlight of the service was the blast of a Shofars followed by a rousing rendition of “Next year in Jerusalem!”.

The prayers were followed by a great show, with daglaniot (flag bearers) – one of our granddaughters among them – and awards to honoured citizens (יקירי הישוב) who had excelled in their field.

This was then followed by a very entertaining show put on by the town’s residents, featuring film clips in the background and accompanied by children of all age groups acting or dancing on the stage. The production was most impressive, and the fireworks at the end were beautiful.

The central Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony took place at Har Herzl in Jerusalem with torch-lighting, parades, music and more.

Independence Day ceremony at Mt. Herzl.

The main event kicking off Independence day was the annual state ceremony, which was taking place at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, featuring a speech from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, the lighting of 12 torches — which symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel in the Bible — by people who are seen to have made an outstanding contribution to society, and much singing and dancing.

Yuli Edelstein, Knesset Speaker.

“One of the highlights of the torches this year are people who succeeded against all odds,” Edelstein said. “Some faced enormous challenges and some had to deal with an extremely cruel fate, but they never gave up. Today they are here, writing another chapter in our story — against all odds!

“This country arose thanks to men and women who, in the face of an impossible reality, succeeded in achieving tremendous achievements. They were not extraordinary geniuses and had no superpowers, but they believed they could succeed. Keep believing that you are part of a wonderful story that began in this country against all odds, and its continuation depends on you.”

Indeed each of the torch-lighters had an extraordinary story:

 Jeff Finkelstein, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh — where 11 Jewish worshipers were murdered in an October 2018 synagogue — was the representative of Diaspora Jewry at the torch-lighting ceremony. He lit the Diaspora torch, which was originally nixed by Culture Minister Miri Regev in March. She walked back her decision several days later and reinstated the relatively new tradition, which she herself had started in 2017.
Jeff Finkelstein kindles the Diaspora torch.

Among the other torch-lighters were Col. Shai Siman-Tov, who was critically wounded during the 2014 Gaza war but recovered and returned to service; veteran singer Yehuda Poliker; film director Avi Nesher, who lost his son several months ago in a traffic accident; Paralympic swimmer Moran Samuel; Holocaust survivor Marie Nahmias, 92, who was a foster mother to 52 handicapped children; and Dr. Hodaya Oliel, who has become the first medical doctor in Israel with cerebral palsy.

Also honored were high school student Gil Shlomo who lives in Sderot, a town frequently targeted with rockets from Gaza; Dr. Hila Hadas, chairwoman of the Enosh NGO that supports people with psychiatric disabilities; Menashe Zalka, an Ethiopian Israeli soccer player in the Premier League team Hapoel Hadera and a former IDF combat soldier; and Dr. Salman Zarka, director of Ziv Medical Center in Safed, who oversaw the establishment of a field hospital for Syrian civil war victims.

Completing the roster were philanthropist Morris Kahn, whose SpaceIL this year unsuccessfully attempted to land the Beresheet spacecraft on the moon; Kfir Damari, a SpaceIL co-founder and Iris Yifrach, Bat-Galim Shaer, and Racheli Fraenkel, the mothers of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in 2014.

Rachel Frankel, Bat Galim Sha’er and Iris Yifrach, the mothers of Naftali Frankel, Gilad Sha’er and Eyal Yifrach HYD, light the torch on Independence Day 2019.

Kahn veered way off his scripted brief speech before lighting the torch, saying he had confirmed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would fund Beresheet 2.0, SpaceIL’s next moon-landing project. Kahn already announced the project a month ago. Ceremony organizers eventually turned off his microphone before he was done talking and continued to the next torch-lighter.

Despite a tradition that the prime minster does not attend the event, Netanyahu was present for the second year in a row, together with his wife Sara. However, he did not deliver a speech as he did in 2018, but a recorded salutation was broadcast.

Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu.

Netanyahu invited 50 residents from the Gaza region, Holocaust survivor Shaul Lubowitz, the Fogel family which suffered a horrific terrorist attack and Moshe Holtzberg who was rescued by his nanny during the 2008 terrorist attack at the local Chabad House where he lost both his parents. The former Paraguayan president Horatio Cartes was also a guest.

We have so much to be grateful for as Israel enters into middle age and its 8th decade. Our population has now reached the astonishing number of 9 million!! Look at the following statistics:

In preparation for Independence Day, the Central Bureau of Statistics published a wealth of data on Israel and its residents. As of today, there are 6,697 million Jews living in the country, 1.890 million Arabs – 20.9% of the population of Israel, and 434,000 defined as “others” – 4.8% of the country’s population. The illegal immigrants and foreign workers living in Israel, an estimated 166,000 people, are not included in the data.

Israel’s population has grown by 177,000 since last year’s Independence Day, an increase of 2%, in line with the annual growth of recent years. Some 188,000 babies were born in Israel over the past 12 months, 31,000 new immigrants arrived and 47,000 people passed away.

Since the greatest [sic. – they mean the establishment] of the state, Israel has absorbed 3,000,000 immigrants, 43% of whom immigrated to Israel after 1990. Of the current Jewish population, 75% are native Israelis. The average Israeli family has 3.11 children.

On the 100th Independence Day in 2048, the CBS predicts that Israel will be home to 15.2 million people

The article continues with some concern about how the country’s infrastructure will cope with such numbers, but we have been there, done that, in the past before. Somehow a miracle occurs, somehow the innovative and improvising Israelis will find a solution and we will muddle through. We should never complain about the size of our population. Just think where we were and how precarious our position was just a mere 2 generations ago.

To celebrate this year’s Independence Day, a beautiful song, “Shevet Achim VeAchayot” – “A tribe of brothers and sisters” –  with accompanying video was produced. As Israellycool reports: (lyrics at the end):

This next song “Shevet Achim VeAchiyot” (a tribe of brothers and sisters) – performed by some of Israel’s most famous singers with a message of unity and love for Israel – is just what the doctor ordered.

I want to add that there are Israeli Arab singers amongst the participants – and that is the most heartwarming of all, that they feel as at home in Israel as their Jewish colleagues that they are prepared to count themselves as part of the “tribe of brothers and sisters”:

70 years on the road I’m traveling and looking
At what was and what will
And how my soul is still this nation

From catching the sunrise
From Jerusalem with its palaces
From the beaches of the Kinneret
From the parties of Tel Aviv

My father dreamed and prayed
To live in the Land of Israel
Today my children ask me
What is the story of Israel?

This is my home This is my heart
And I will not leave
Our ancestors, our roots
We are the flowers, the melodies
A tribe of brothers and sisters

The same neighborhood, the same street
Jacob’s twelve sons’
Brought together after their wanderings
In the place of their longing

A man is his native landscape
He lines lines in the palm of his hand
Between the prayers and the oaths
The smell of orchard of citrus

And in my mother’s eyes
I’ll always find my place
The guitar is playing
An ancient tune that is right

This is a my home
This is my heart
And I will not leave
Our ancestors, our roots

And we are the flowers, the melodies
A tribe of brothers and sisters

From scratch everything is sewn
Patches, patches of the story
Like two words – they connect
The golden needle of a poet

Here I am from, Here I belong
And every friend of mine is like a brother
You are beating in my heart
I am east and west

This is my home
This is my heart
And I will not leave
Our ancestors, our roots
We are the flowers, the melodies
A tribe of brothers and sisters

This is my home
This is my heart
And I will not leave
Our ancestors, our roots
We are the flowers, the melodies.

Happy Birthday Israel! Chag Same’ach! I won’t say עד מאה ועשרים – ad me’ah ve’esrim (until 120) – because I hope you live till thousands of years old!

When you think how far we have come in such a short time, the blink of an eye in historical perspective, we have to thank G-d for bringing us to this day.

זה היום עשה ה’ נגילה ונשמחה בו

This is the day that Hashem made, we will rejoice and celebrate on it.


First published at Anne’s Opinions

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