newsJewish & Israeli Holidays

Israel celebrates 76 years of independence

This year’s celebrations are mixed with sorrow as the war in Gaza and the rocket attacks in the north continue.

Israelis enjoy a barbecue on Yom Ha'aztmaut, Independence Day, April 26, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
Israelis enjoy a barbecue on Yom Ha'aztmaut, Independence Day, April 26, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.

Tuesday marks the 76th anniversary of the modern-day State of Israel, as Israelis rejoice but remain mindful of the war raging against them in the Gaza Strip and on the Lebanese border.

Independence Day in Israel, celebrated on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar (this year it is on the sixth to avoid desecrating Shabbat for Memorial Day), commemorates the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

The declaration was announced and signed by David Ben-Gurion and members of the Provisional State Council on May 14, 1948—by coincidence the date in May on which this year’s celebration also occurs. It was hailed as the first instance of Jewish sovereignty over parts of the Land of Israel since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years earlier.

The signing was followed by the War of Independence of 1948-49, in which Arab countries attempted to destroy the young state.

This year’s celebrations are mixed with sorrow as the war in Gaza and the rocket attacks in the north continue, and after the country mourned the loss of Israel Defense Forces soldiers and terror victims from the past year, especially since the terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Remarking on the dichotomy, Likud Knesset member Dan Illouz told JNS, “On this Independence Day, we remember Oct. 7—a day mirroring the tragic pogroms our ancestors deemed routine. Yet, our reality is a contrast, defined by the valiant defense of hundreds of thousands of IDF soldiers, realizing dreams of a strong, self-reliant Israel.

“This empowerment, once unthinkable to our forebears, underscores our progress. As we celebrate our resilience and sovereignty, we keep a vigilant watch over the fate of our hostages, remaining committed to their return.”

Due to the war, many celebrations that are normally scheduled were canceled. For example, the popular flyover, whereby Air Force planes fly across the country, was canceled.

Instead of the torch-lighting ceremony that normally takes place at Mount Herzl, it will take place at “Gaza Envelope” towns and IDF bases that Hamas invaders attacked on Oct. 7.

Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who is responsible for organizing state events, canceled fireworks shows across the country.

As in years past, the Israel Prize ceremony will be held, but this time in Sderot, near Gaza, instead of Jerusalem. Various small events will take place in communities throughout Israel.

Independence Day is celebrated immediately after the end of Memorial Day, creating a distinction between the pain suffered and the triumph and ultimate reward for the sacrifice of those who fell—independence.

This year’s Memorial Day was particularly painful due to the mass casualties suffered in the past year. According to the Defense Ministry, 1,599 Israeli soldiers and civilians have died since last Memorial Day.

This figure includes 765 Israel Defense Forces soldiers (61 of whom succumbed to their wounds from previous years) and 834 civilians, of whom 822 were killed on or after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel.

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