Celebrations for Israel's 73rd Independence Day continued Thursday with events, performances and parties all over the country, after the opening ceremony in Jerusalem on Wednesday night marked a return to live events after a year of pandemic regulations.
Events include the annual Independence Day flyover by the Israel Air Force, soaring above every city in the country, a festive flotilla making its way between Herzliya and Tel Aviv, and the traditional Yom Haatzmaut ceremony for outstanding soldiers hosted by President Reuven Rivlin at his Jerusalem residence.
Parks and nature reservations all over the country were already packed Thursday morning with people celebrating Independence Day in the open air, with a hot grill and plenty of meat.
For the last time during his tenure, Rivlin celebrated the 120 soldiers singled out by their commanders. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi also participated in the event. Rivlin leaves office in the summer after seven years as president.
A special fly-past in honor of the outstanding soldiers of all branches of the IDF included a special greeting for Rivlin and the soldiers as the formation flew over his residence.
“Mr. President, Chief of Staff, we pilots of the Israel Air Force wish you Chag Atzmaut Sameach [Happy Independence Day] on behalf of the Israel Defense Forces,” the lead pilot said over the radio.
With a salute, the president responded: “On behalf of the people of Israel, I wish you, the pilots of the Israel Air Force, the men and women of the Israel Defense Forces and its commanders on land, sea and air – Chag Atzmaut Sameach!”
The main flyover, a popular event that sees Israelis flock to the beach and other open areas to enjoy the spectacle, got underway soon afterwards.
This year's event is significantly larger than in 2020, when a small flyover paid tribute to medical teams on the frontline of the fight against the virus.
One of the F-15 fighter jets in the formation was being piloted by IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin. The IDF said that this was his personal salute to the citizens of Israel for ending a challenging year of coronavirus.
The military flyover was joined later in the day by civilian aircraft from the aviation industry.
At 5pm, members of the diplomatic corps from around the world were to be hosted by the president at his residence.
In the final event of the day, at 6:30pm the prestigious Israel Prize for excellence, known as the "Israeli Nobel," was to be awarded to eight Israelis in the fields of the humanities, science and culture and for lifetime achievement.
The awards were to be handed out in a special ceremony in the presence of the president, prime minister and Chief Justice Esther Hayut.
Wednesday night's celebrations at Mount Herzl paid special tribute to the medical teams who implemented the massive vaccine rollout that allowed Israelis to celebrate together this year.
In prerecorded message, Netanyahu said: "We have been a difficult year of a global epidemic and we went through it together, and we came back in full force. We did it thanks to our medical teams and volunteers."
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, whose company provided Israel with the vast majority of its vaccines, said in his own prerecorded video message that he was proud of the work Israel had done.
"The cooperation between Pfizer and Israel has brought about a new breakthrough. We together, are proving that through mass inoculation we can eradicate the coronavirus pandemic and save lives."
Wednesday's ceremony was attended by a crowd of no more than 700, in observance of coronavirus health restrictions, which while small was a massive change from last year's event that barred crowds from attending altogether.
A formation dance by 350 male and female members of the military dance into the form a syringe, honoring the successful vaccination drive that began last December and has thus far provided both coronavirus vaccine shots to approximately 5 million Israelis.