The official "switch" from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha'atzmaut takes place a few minutes after sundown, with a ceremony
at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery in which the national flag is raised from half staff to
the top of the pole. Usually, the president of Israel will deliver a speech of congratulations while soldiers representing
all the various branches and units of the Israel Defense Forces parade with their flags. In recent decades
this smaller-scale ceremony has replaced a much larger daytime parade
which was the main event during the 1950s and '60s. The evening parade
is followed by a torch lighting (hadlakat masuot) ceremony, symbolically marking
the country's achievements in all spheres of life.
Other than the official ceremonies, Israelis celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut in a variety of ways. In the major cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, nighttime festivities
are focused on the main streets where crowds gather to watch public
shows offered for free by the municipalities and the government. In rural communities, many people
spend the night dancing Israeli folk dances or singing Israeli songs.
During the daytime thousands of Israeli families go out on hikes and
picnics. Many army bases are also opened for civilians to visit to display the
achievements of the Israeli
Defense Forces. Yom Ha'atzmaut is concluded with the ceremony of
granting the "Israel
Prize" recognizing individual Israelis for their unique contribution
to the country's culture, science, arts, and the humanities.
The religious character of Yom Ha'atzmaut is still
in the process of formation, and is subject to debate. The Chief
Rabbinate of the State has decided that this day should be marked with a recitation
of Hallel (Psalms of
Praise), similar to other joyous Jewish holidays, and with the reading of a
special haftarah (prophetic portion). Most ultra-Orthodox Jews, in Israel and abroad, have not accepted this ruling, and some Orthodox Jews chant
the Hallel psalms without the blessing which precedes it.
On the other hand, HaKibbutz HaDati (Modern Orthodox Kibbutz Movement)
initiated a version of the prayer Al HaNissim ("Concerning the
Miracles") to be added to the Amidah (the central prayer recited while standing) on Yom Ha'atzmaut, as it
is on Hanukkah and Purim. This special addition to the liturgy of the
day was not approved by the Chief Rabbinate but was adopted by the Masorti
(Conservative) and the
Progressive (Reform) congregations
in Israel. Some rabbis argue
that Yom Ha'atzmaut should be viewed in conjunction with Hanukkah and
Purim, since all three commemorate a "miraculous" victory
of the Jews over an enemy of superior military might. It should be noted
that most Israelis do not consider Yom Ha'atzmaut a religious holiday
Aside from Israel, most Jewish communities around the world
have also incorporated Yom Ha'atzmaut into their calendars, though it has become customary from some to hold
the public celebrations on the closest Sunday in order to attract more participation.
In Israel it is a formal holiday;
so almost everyone has the day off.
Jews, celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut has been a way to express solidarity
with the State of Israel and to strengthen their alliance with it. In
many communities, it is one of few occasions in which Jewish organizations
and synagogues of different
ideologies and denominations cooperate in forming a common celebration.
In many North American congregations, the joint public celebration often
is augmented by a religious service. In some cases, this would occur
on the Shabbat closest
to Yom Ha'atzmaut and would consist of additional readings added to
the service and, usually, the singing of Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem).
There is not yet an accepted "tradition"
of how to celebrate this holiday, and only time will tell whether certain
customs, foods, prayers, and melodies will be linked in the Jewish mind
with this holiday, as with holidays that emerged many centuries before
Yom Ha-Atzmaut. For Jews around the world, joining with Israelis celebrating
Yom Ha-Atzmaut has become a concrete link in the Jewish connection to
the land of Israel.