VIDEO - The State of Israel began its 61st Independence Day celebrations with the traditional torch lighting ceremony, held at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Hundreds attended Tuesday's ceremony and welcomed Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, the evening's first speaker to the stage.
"The pride each and every one of us feels, here and everywhere a Jewish heart beats, when we make the transition from the sanctity of mourning to joy, is the true story of this day. This story is not just that of the redemption of the 1948 generation, but that of 2009's generation, which is still paying for its freedom and liberties, daily," he said.
Thanking the Israeli armed forces, he added that "it was only recently that we stood in awe of those who gave their lives during Operation Cast Lead, those exemplary characters living among us, in Israel of 2009, which more than anything aspires to peace and quiet. Their heroism reminds us of the strength needed to have a normal life in the midst of an abnormal reality."
Israel of 2009, he added, "is no less impressive than that of 1949 – it's more democratic, more open and tolerant and more Jewish in its nature and culture. Israel now is more sophisticated and less demagogic. It may be less ideological, but it is home to more idealists. This (new) ideology may be less pious, but it is more humane and loving," he concluded.
Mt. Herzl ceremony (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The crowd roared as Rivlin turned to light the traditional Knesset torch, in honor of Israel's parliament. The ceremony was dedicated to Tel Aviv's centennial year, as all those honored with lighting a torch "for the glory of Israel" were prominent city figures.
For the glory of Israel
The first torch was lit by Shlomo Lahat, Tel Aviv's seventh mayor, who held the position for 20 years. A retired IDF major-general, Lahat lit the torch flared "in honor of the first flourishing 100 years of the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, in honor of the people of Tel Aviv, young and old… for the constant effort, in the past, present and future, to base our lives on the principles of moral and justice both in the armed forces and civilian society."
The second torch was lit by Rabbi Avraham Chaim Adler, cantor of the City of Tel Aviv. Renowned worldwide, he holds the annual prayer service at the March of the Living in Auschwitz. Adler lit the torch flared "in honor of those who preserve the traditions of Jewish prayer and poetry in all of Israel's denominations and for the bond between the first Hebraic city and its Jewish roots."
The third torch was lit by esteemed artists Lea Mejaro-Mintz, the granddaughter of Shimon Rokach, one of the founders of the Neve Zedek neighborhood in Tel Aviv. Assisted by her granddaughter Nitzan, Mintz lit the torch flared "in honor of all artists and creators in the city, for the preservations of its heritage and for us as a society which fulfills the ordinance of 'love thy neighbor' regardless of race, gender, religion or creed.'"
Fireworks in Jerusalem (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The fourth torch was lit by biophysics Prof. Menachem Gutman of the Tel Aviv University and son famed writer and artist Nahum Guttman, who designed the city's official insignia and centered many of his writings on its evolution. Guttman lit the torch flared "in honor of the pioneers of settlement, for the cultivation of curiosity, the encouragement of creative thinking and for all research and science institutions, whose prosperity hold the key to our future."
The fifth torch was lit by third-generation Tel Aviv industrialist Yair Rotlevi. Rotlevi lit the torch flared "in honor of the ambition and ability to incorporate the needs of the community with the business vision and for the organizations and groups which assume the responsibility of improving the surroundings we live in."
The sixth torch was lit by Shula Vidrich, a historian and tour guide who dedicated the past 25 years to the study of Tel-Aviv's history. Vidrich lit the torch flared "in honor of the tens of thousands of righteous, hardworking people who gave Tel Aviv its physical and cultural character, for the education which allows us to learn of our past roots in order to nourish the present and the future and for all educational systems."
The seventh torch was lit by Actress Yevgenia Dodina of the Gesher and Habima theaters. Dodina lit the torch flared "in honor of the cultural freedom and richness found in Tel Aviv and for the success of all immigrants in finding a feeling of home in Israel."
The eighth torch was lit by radio personality Amikam Gurevitch, who has been the announcer for the ceremony for over 50 years. Gurevitch lit the torch flared "in honor of all forms of culture, written, preformed and broadcast and for the rejuvenating Hebrew language."
The ninth torch was lit by philanthropist Nazarian Joseph Vince, who was smuggled into Israel as a child in 1949. Vince lit the torch flared "in honor of all those who generously and lovingly offer what they have to help solve social problems."
The tenth torch was lit by musician, author and lead singer of the group Teapacks Kobi Oz. The flare was lit "in honor of all creators, in all avenues of composition and for our divers reality, which brings together tradition with innovation and east and west."
The 11th torch was lit by IDF representative, Lieutenant-Colonel Oren Cohen, commander of the Golani Brigade's 13th battalion. Cohen lit the torch flared "in honor of the Israeli Defense Forces, which spreads its wings in protection of the nation united as one, for all members of the armed forces, for the safe return of out missing and captive soldiers, for the recovery of our injured and for the comfort of all bereaved families."
The 12th and last torch – the youth torch – was lit by Michal Meron and Angelica Yoavov from Tel Aviv. The two lit the torch flared "in honor of understanding, patience and the hope of a better future."