Many Jewish families in the U.S. commemorate Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, despite being far from their natural homeland. This year, the holiday falls on April 19, although celebrations can begin as early as sundown on April 18. By understanding a little more about this holiday, Jewish families living in the U.S. can gain a greater appreciation for their Jewish heritage.
Israel has a rich and interesting history worthy of being remembered. The original date of Yom Ha'atzmaut was May 14, 1948. This was the day David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, publicly read the country’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv. In Israel, Yom Ha'atzmaut is preceded by another significant holiday, Yom Hazikaron, aka Memorial Day. Yom Hazikaron commemorates those soldiers who gave their lives to help their country gain independence.
In Israel, official Independence Day celebrations begin shortly after sundown on Israel’s Memorial Day. At this time, the Jewish flag is raised from half-mast (Memorial Day) to the top of the flagpole to commemorate Independence Day. Israel’s president then gives a congratulatory speech to the nation followed by a military parade comprised of soldiers representing the country’s Army, Navy and Air Force. After the parade comes a torch lighting ceremony marking the country’s major achievements.
Israel’s citizens take part in the festivities by watching organized events, singing and dancing to folk songs, going on family hikes and picnics or visiting Army camps to view displays of the country’s Defense Forces. Holiday celebrations conclude with a special ceremony in which the country awards the “Israel Prize” to outstanding individuals that have made unique contributions to cultural, scientific and artistic fields.
In the U.S., Jewish families celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut to show their support of Israel and strengthen cultural ties to their homeland. In the U.S., celebrations may include:
- Sharing kosher pizza dinners together
- Singing and dancing to folk songs
- Watching folk song performances
- Holding barbecues
- Participating in flag making activities
In some communities, Jewish Americans celebrate this holiday by organizing benefit concerts that feature both local and Israeli musicians and bands. These concerts may offer a mixture of traditional music and popular rock tunes from modern times. Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations could also include arts and crafts for children as well as organized games and rides for kids and teens.
The Israeli flag is a prominent symbol for the country of Israel. As such, it holds an important role in celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut both in Israel and abroad. The flag is composed of a white rectangle bordered by two blue horizontal stripes — one on the bottom and one on top. A picture of a blue hexagram symbolizing the Star of David (or Megan David) appears within the white rectangle in between the two stripes. By displaying the Israeli flag on Israel's Independence Day, Jewish families show their honor and respect for their country and heritage.
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