When is Israel's Independence Day celebrated?
Israel's Independence Day is celebrated on the fifth day of the Jewish month of Iyar, which falls in the month of May. It is celebrated the day after Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen. The Hebrew date of Independence Day corresponded to the fourteenth of May 1948 when the Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion declared the creation of the State of Israel.
What events led up to the fateful day of May 14th 1948?
The United Nations had voted for the creation of a new state that would take place on May 15th, 1948. At 4 p.m. on May 14th the British lowered their flag and the Jews raised their own. The flag had been designed in 1897 by the First Zionist Congress. It was white (representing newness) with two blue stripes (the color of heaven). The flag is reminiscent of a Tallit (prayer shawl), symbolizing the importance of Jewish tradition. In the centre of the flag is a Star of David.
David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence over the radio. This was the first time in two-thousand years that Israel was in Jewish hands.
What happened after the Declaration of Independence?
The Jewish people were ecstatic. People took to the streets in dance.
Then five Arab countries declared war on Israel. Tel Aviv was bombed by Egypt. The five Arab states attacked Israel, refusing to accept the new reality of a Jewish state. The little, new State of Israel found itself up against Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In terms of numbers, there were 600,000 Jews up against 45 million Arabs. The United Nations was silent.
Despite the odds the Jews miraculously won. But victory came at a heavy price. The Old City of Jerusalem, the holiest of Jewish sites, fell into the hands of the Jordanians. In the thirteen months of the War of Independence 6,000 Israelis died, 1% of the entire population.
Tragically, as the military cemetery of Mt. Herzl testifies, hundreds of the fallen soldiers were unidentified Holocaust survivors who had arrived in Israel only to be handed a gun in order to fight for the Jewish nation and state.
The War of Independence was Israel's costliest war.
The borders of Israel were redefined by the war, deviating from those set by the United Nations.
How is Independence Day celebrated today?
- A ceremony is held on Mt. Herzl on the evening of Independence Day making the change-over from a day of mourning to a day of celebration. Speeches are made, a moving presentation marking the change-over takes place, soldiers march ritually and twelve torches are lit (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) by twelve Israeli citizens who have made significant contributions to the country.
- The International Bible Quiz for Jewish Youth is broadcast. Participants from all over the world compete for the honorable title of Bible Groom/Bride.
- The Israel Prize Ceremony which recognizes literary, artistic and scientific excellence takes place.
- Army bases are open to the public.
- Air-force fly-bys and naval displays take place.
- Many religious people recite Hallel, a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as selected psalms and readings.
- Israeli families, regardless of religious observance or affiliation celebrate with barbeques and picnics.
- Israeli flags are hung on houses, balconies and cars.
- Municipalities offer free public shows on the eve of Independence Day.