At community centers, public parks, city squares, and in private homes, Israelis returned the national flag to full staff as darkness fell tonight, marking the end of Yom HaZikaron and ushering in the Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day) holiday.
In addition, thousands of Israelis attended festive synagogue services as day turned to night. A variety of religious customs have developed to mark the day when Jewish sovereignty returned to the Land of Israel, including celebratory Shofar blasts to conclude services tonight and the recitation of the Hallel prayer tomorrow morning.
For the first time, Reform Jews in Israel have followed suit and have moved to invest Yom HaAtzma’ut with religious meaning: “Rabbi” Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said Reform congregations would conduct “havdalah” services tonight to mark the transition from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzma’ut. Reform cantors will also perform operatic renditions of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Speaking at a Yom HaZikaron ceremony this morning, President Shimon Peres said Israel is “a wonder to the world,” and predicted the country is on “a runway to a greater future for the next generation.”
Peres then repeated the prayer of every Israeli for peace, but re-iterated that the country must still live by the sword.
“The battle is not over, we have not reached our goals,” Peres said.
With the onset of the holiday, downtown Jerusaelem came to a halt, as tens of thousands of revellers welcomed the holiday in bars, restaurants, open-air cafes and public spaces. As in previous years, rowdy teenagers – and more than a few young-at-heart adults – banged plastic hammers on the heads of strangers and sprayed silly string at passers-by.
Tomorrow, on Yom HaAtzma’ut, police expect heavy traffic on roads around the country as Israelis celebrate a rare non-religious holiday. With temperatures above 30 degrees Centigrade (86 Farenheit) expected around the country, beaches, national parks, tourist sites and natural springs are expected to be packed to capacity by the mid-morning hours.