Remembrance Day sorrow replaced with Independence Day joy: The State of Israel kicked
off its 63rd anniversary celebrations on Monday evening with the traditional torch lighting ceremony on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl.
The theme of this year's ceremony was "strengthening the bond between the people of Israel".
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who lit the first torch, said in his speech: "Israel of 2011 is a Jewish and democratic state, which shines proudly in the heart of an oppressive and cruel Middle East.
"From bloody wars, through murderous terror. From the Altalena affair to the Reparations Agreement. From the murder of a prime minister to the uprooting of the Gaza settlers. The Israeli democracy has faced difficult and painful tests – and has passed them all."
Mount Herzl celebrations (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
He added that the strength of the State of Israel was not an obvious thing. "The Israeli society is a complex and diverse society, filled with tensions and loaded with contradicting worldviews.
"This is a society in which Jews and Arabs, haredim and seculars, settlers and leftists, all share the same fate. In such a reality, the existence of a steadfast and functioning democratic society is an achievement, the greatness of which cannot be denied. It's a wonder which has no precedent. And for that, my brothers and sisters, our heart is filled with pride today."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
Rivlin went on to discuss issues he views as painful. "On the 63rd year of our independence, many among us view the Israeli mosaic as something that must be battled against, and not as a reality that we must embrace. We have spent too much time trying to undermine our shared fate, and not enough time establishing our shared life here," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
issued a special televised statement in honor of the occasion.
"The establishment of the State of Israel is nothing like the establishment of other countries," he said. "Few against many, our sons and daughters fought to realize our independence.
"We have come a long, remarkable way in the past 63 years. From a poor and weak country we have turned into a strong and well-established state, a global technological power with an army admired all over the world, with scientists, writers, agricultures, everything.
Netanyahu said that Israel was a special country because it served as the Jewish people's home.
"It's a special country because in the entire area west of India to the Atlantic Ocean through the Middle East and North Africa, it's an island of progress, an island of democracy, an island of development, an island of freedom. And it's our island, the island of the Jewish people."
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish (R) and PM's wife Sara Netanyahu (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
The prime minister went on to say that the people of Israel must unite. "On this day, it is our duty to celebrate our great achievements, success and all the hopes which have been realized.
"The saying 'Being a free nation in our country' has become the reality of our life, and these are the moments when we can put all our differences and disagreements aside. We know that there are many things which must be fixed, but we must be proud of what we've achieved and, above all, feel the power and strength of unity."
The following people were selected to light beacons "for the glory of the State of Israel" in this year's ceremony:
Sa'ar Shapira, a volunteer firefighter who studied with Elad Riven,
the 16-year-old boy who died in the Carmel fire while trying to save Israel Prison Service cadets trapped on a burning bus; and Arij Arkab, a Druze social worker working in the IPS, who will represent the cadets killed in the fire.
Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, a member of the Chabad movement who lost his daughter and son-in-law in the November 2008 terror attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India. He will be joined by his grandson, Moishi Holtzberg,
who survived the attack.
Former Knesset Member Matityahu Drobles, who headed the Jewish Agency's Land Settlement Department.
Colonel Hosea Friedman – a fighter, commander of the Carmeli Brigade and an educator.
Orit Dror, a member of Kibbutz Lavi who with her husband donated her son’s organs after he died of a chronic illness.
Zehava Dankner, a philanthropist who has been volunteering for the Israeli society for decades.
Omer Bar-Lev, who has been serving for the past 13 years as voluntary chairman of the Aharai! ("Follow Me!") organization which aims to develop and cultivate a young leadership cadre among youth from underprivileged communities.
Michael Goldman, a Holocaust survivor who joined the team of Giora Hausner, the prosecutor in Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann's trial.
Barbara Goldstein of the Hadassah women's organization, which is marking its 100th anniversary.
Dr. Zeev Dashevsky, president of the Mahanayim institution which works to teach Jewish and Zionist values to new immigrants.
Yobi Teshuma, a social activist in the Friends in Nature organization working to help the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants.
Gadi Bashari, founder of the Sweet Heart organization, which helps soldiers, disabled people and new immigrants.