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Throughout the Jewish world, celebrations of Israel’s Independence Day will crowd calendars around the fifth day of the month of Iyar, according to the Hebrew calendar. The date commemorates the moment of the first public reading of Israel’s Declaration of Independence by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948.
Events brimming with music and food reminiscent of the Israeli “street” connect Jews of the Diaspora and supporters of the Jewish State with Israel on the anniversary of its independence. Individuals and organizations, families and friends, young and old gather in synagogues, concert halls, clubs, parties and picnics, to celebrate the 64th Anniversary of the modern State of Israel. At the beginning or conclusion of each event, the notes of “Hatikvah” bring emotions to a high.
Faces striped in blue and white bring a smile, Israeli music lifts spirits, and generations dance hora until they are breathless. Jewish organizations, from the Friends of the Israel Defense forces to Dor Chadash to local JCC’s to synagogue Hebrew schools gather to bring a bit of Israel to their local holiday events.
In New York, the annual Celebrate Israel Parade (formerly Salute to Israel Parade) is essentially the culmination of Independence Day “season.” Thirty thousand marchers promenade along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, waving blue and white banners at the world’s largest gathering displaying solidarity with Israel.
In St. Louis, Mo., celebration of Independence Day is preceded by a Yom HaShoah commemoration. In 2012 the focus is on children and will include a reading of the poem of Pavel Friedman, a 14-year-old child who did not survive the Terezin concentration camp. “Butterflies don’t live here in the ghetto,” Friedman wrote. His words and those of other young prisoners will be presented to the young people of the St. Louis Jewish community.
New York’s official community Independence Day celebration, bringing together members of diverse Jewish organizations, also begins with a somber remembrance of Yom HaShoah. Diplomats and soldiers, civilians and survivors, stand to watch as memorial candles are lit and a song of prayer rises. The mood will change dramatically as music and song take over the stage of B. B. King Blues Club in Times Square.
Chicago will celebrate with sports. When the hometown favorite Chicago Bulls will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in a National Basketball Association content, a post-game celebration will include Israeli NBA star Omri Casspi (of the Cavaliers) and Baltimore native Tamir Goodman, who was once labeled the “Jewish Jordan” during his high school basketball career.
Concerts featuring Jewish and Israeli performers and bands will enhance the Israeli Independence Day events. Moshe Hecht, a New York-based “folk rock” artist and a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch community, brings a rock twist to traditional melodies.
“So much of what I’m doing is about Israel,” says Hecht. “Yom Ha’atzmaut is about the land of Israel, not only about the State of Israel. Chabad creates a balance between the founding of Israel as a modern State and Torah values. We celebrate Israel every day, not only on a specific day of the declaration of Independence.”
Independence Day celebrations in the Diaspora mirror the excitement and enthusiasm of celebrating in Israel. Dr. Judy Ross, who spent several months of the year in Israel for decades, says she loved being in Israel for Independence Day, recalling the fireworks and the exuberant dancing.
“For days before the fifth of Iyar, people were hanging flags and banners from every window, from every balcony,” she recalls. “Entire blocks were festooned with color. Neighborhoods turned into forests of flags, seas of blue and white.”
Even the fireworks, she says, are special in Israel on Independence Day, decorating the skies in every town with color and sparkle. The dancing, she says, is “so uniquely energetic—it brings everyone together. Every town had a celebration.”