Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated on May 14, as the anniversary of the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948. A witness to the declaration described the scene as follows:
“The Jews of Palestine … were dancing because they were about to realize what was one of the most remarkable and inspiring achievements in human history: A people which had been exiled from its homeland two thousand years before, which had endured countless pogroms, expulsions, and persecutions, but which had refused to relinquish its identity—which had, on the contrary, substantially strengthened that identity; a people which only a few years before had been the victim of mankind’s largest single act of mass murder, killing a third of the world’s Jews, that people was returning home as sovereign citizens in their own independent state.”
The United States, the Soviet Union and many other countries recognized the new State of Israel, but unfortunately many other countries, mainly those surrounding Arab states, refused to recognize it as a nation, and to this day some Arab states do not give Israel official recognition as a sovereign state.
Now, every year, there is an official ceremony held on Independence Day Eve on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. The ceremony features a speech by the speaker of the Israeli parliament, various artistic performances, the formation of some elaborate structures (such as large menorahs) and the ceremonial lighting of 12 torches, representing the Tribes of Israel.
On Independence Day itself, there are a number of different events:
- A reception of the President of Israel to honor excellence in IDF soldiers
- An International Bible Contest held in Jerusalem
- An Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem
- An Israeli Song Festival
- IDF bases opened up to the public for perusal
In years past, there had been an IDF parade, as well.
There has been some debate over the decades about whether Independence Day should also be given the status of a minor Jewish holiday, which would require the recitation of Hallel. While there are certainly many Jews who participate in religious activities and use the holiday as a day of reflection, it has never been given official status as a religious holiday.