How to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day)

“The State of Israel wouldn’t be able to celebrate its existence if it weren’t for those who gave their lives for it."
Fireworks are seen above Tel Aviv's City Hall, lit up for last year's Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration on April 14, 2021, in honor of Israel's 73rd year of independence. (Photo: Matt Keston via StandWithUs on Twitter)

Immediately after Yom Hazikaron ends, Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) begins. Typically, in other countries, the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and the Independence Day occur on two separate days of the year. So why is it that, in Israel, Independence Day begins the moment that Memorial Day ends?

“The State of Israel wouldn’t be able to celebrate its existence if it weren’t for those who gave their lives for it,” the IDF explains. “We wouldn’t be able to have one of those days without the other one. We honor their memory and everything they fought for, so that today, we can celebrate our independence.”

The official “switch” from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Haatzmaut takes place a few minutes after sundown at the military ceremony on Mount Herzl. The Israeli flag is raised from half staff to the top of the pole, and soldiers representing the Army, Navy and Air Force parade with their flags. 

This is followed by a torch lighting (hadlakat masuot) ceremony, in which 12 torches are lit symbolizing the 12 Tribes of Israel by people who have made outstanding contributions to society. The ceremony also includes music, dances, parades and fireworks.

In addition to the official ceremonies, Israelis celebrate Yom Haatzmaut by attending public shows across the country with leading Israeli singers and fireworks. The streets in the area are closed and Israelis sing and dance in the streets.

During the day, workplaces are closed, and many go on hikes or have a picnic or barbecue. The day concludes with a ceremony of granting the Israel Prize, recognizing those who display excellence in their field or contribute strongly to Israeli culture. Past recipients of the prestigious award include Martin Buber, Golda Meir, A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz.

Outside of Israel, Jewish communities around the world mark the day by expressing solidarity with the state of Israel and participating in Israel-related programs and events. Many congregations hold a special religious service or add special readings to the Shabbat service that is closest to Yom Haatzmaut.

Jews in the Diaspora join with Israelis in celebrating Israel’s independence, which future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared on May 14, 1948, in the old Tel Aviv Museum with the words: “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, to be known as the State of Israel.”

The historian and former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren describes the mood outside of Ben-Gurion’s home just prior to the declaration, capturing the spirit of the day:

“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.”