Yom Ha’atzmaut

Yom Ha’atzmaut is the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day on the fifth of the Jewish month of Iyar, which is sometime during March or April.

Jewish-American events typically celebrate at the local level within their own community, attending dinners, celebrations, attractions such as face painting and animal rides, fireworks, barbecuing, and flag making. Many concerts are benefit concerts, donating proceeds to charity. These events are most often held by Jewish community centers and other cultural groups.

However, the holiday has more established traditions in Israel. The night before, televisions show a procession of soldiers holding objects symbolic to Judaism, including the Star of David and the menorah. Twelve beacons are lit to symbolize Israel’s twelve tribes.

One tradition is the “switch,” which takes place Jerusalem on Mount Herzl, performed by raising a half-staff flag to full staff. This symbolizes the switch from Memorial Day to Yom HaAtzmaut. This may include speeches and marches within the ceremony.

Young Jews in Israel carry shaving cream, silly string, or plastic hammers around with them and spray or hammer passersby. Observers may also display the Israeli flag and read from the Torah. In Jerusalem, there will be a reception for the President of Israel. Other events include international bible contests, the ceremony for the Israel Prize, touring of the military bases and song/essay contests. Some celebrations may honor Theodor Herzle, a leader of the Zionist movement, which strived to establish a home state for the Jews. There used to be an Israel Defense Forces parade until the event was cut in 1973 for budgetary reasons.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is not celebrated internationally due to the controversial nature of the state of Israel. Even some Jews objected, though many detractors include Arabs that felt a loss of identity at Israel’s creation. Some will display a black flag or treat the day as a day of mourning.

On the religious scene, observes recite Hallel, or Jewish blessings along with other ceremonial tradition. Some more conservative groups hold long readings of the Torah.

Common foods for the holiday are more often low-key, picnic style food. This includes:

  • Hummus
  • Falafel
  • Potato Puffs, or Burekas
  • Chopped liver
  • Eggplant dishes
  • Doughnuts

Holiday History

Israelites have struggled with the theme of homeland since ancient times. The Jews lived in ancient Israel until the Jewish-Roman wars left the group as minorities in most regions. The area went on to be ruled by both Christians and Muslims. In the 19th century, support grew for an Israeli established state due to Jewish Persecution in many parts of the world. After the Mandate of Palestine, in which Britain took land from Syria to establish an Israeli state. This was followed by Aliya, or immigration to Israel by Jews. In 1948, Israel declared itself as an Independent state, declared by the first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. It is now home to 42% of Jews in the world. Some Arab countries have not recognized Israel as a state.

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