A good thing about America’s Independence Day is that it is so dependable: you can always count on it to fall out on the 4th of July. Israel’s Independence Day, on the other hand, is much less reliable. To begin with, its commemoration is tied to the Hebrew calendar, of which half the population here typically has not the foggiest. Add to this the factor of Memorial Day immediately preceding Independence Day and the factor of neither day being commemorated on the Sabbath, and you have a recipe for calendrical confusion.
Take this year, for example. My daily calendar has Yom Ha’atzmaut marked out on its official commemorative day, the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyyar, which this year is on Monday May 5. But because the Jewish day begins at night, this would have meant that Memorial Day would have begun on Saturday night, May 3, making it difficult for many of the Sabbath-observing bereaved to attend commemoration services. Memorial Day, therefore, has been postponed to Sunday night, May 4, thus pushing Independence Day celebrations this year to the sixth of Iyyar, beginning on Monday night, May 5. Too bad for my calendar, but hey – we are still a young country.
For religious Zionists, the founding of the State of Israel has theological significance, and religious Zionists want to mark this occasion of God’s acting in history. They do so primarily with a special evening service on the night of Independence Day, which includes the blowing of the shofar and the recitation of the festive Hallel prayer. Religious non-Zionists, however, attach no special religious importance to Yom Ha’atzmaut, and even recite the tahanun prayer reserved for regular profane weekdays.
To the general public, Yom Ha’atmzaut is a time for free outdoor concerts, fireworks, getting foam sprayed all over you and having musical toy hammers smashed into your skull. There are also many parties throughout the night. In Givat Ze’ev, even the party for junior high-school students begins at midnight.
The day of Yom Ha’atzmaut provides one with the opportunity to fulfill the central commandment of this holiday: the mangal (barbecue). One simply has not fulfilled one’s obligation to one’s country without a BBQ. It’s no wonder that my friend Katriel playfully calls this day not Yom Ha’atzmaut, but Yom Ha’atzamot (the day of bones). Israelis like to get out into nature on Independence Day, and so they lug all their barbecue paraphernalia with them. Because holiday traffic jams can be horrendous, some families set up their barbecues well before the entrance to a park, thus getting a jump on the trip back home. It is astounding to me to see families barbecuing a few feet from a highway, with asphalt and cars providing most of their scenery. You sort of wonder why they did not just set up shop from the comfort of their own neighborhood street.
There are several locations around the country on Yom Ha’atzmaut where the army creates a military “parking lot” for kids. Givat Ze’ev is one of the chosen spots. On our first Independence Day here sixteen years ago, a television crew from Miami (where we lived before aliya) followed us around. As the cameraman filmed Rebecca climbing on a tank, I told the reporter that kids here are socialized from a very early age to view the military as friendly and fun. My three older children, including Rebecca, have by now already completed their military service, Ezra is scheduled to finish his service on May 15, and Elie will be enlisting within a year. Independence, after all, has a price. Happy Holiday!
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is a tennis coach who made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies.
He and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.