Israel's 69th Independence Day begins with torch-lighting ceremony
Israel kicks off national day of celebration, with the theme of this year's Independence Day ceremony being the liberation and unification of Jerusalem; torchbearers share their own stories about the capital; Singer Rita performs spellbinding version of 'Jerusalem of Gold,' dancers and military marchers bedazzle spectators with mesmerizing displays.
Torches were lit by Israeli singer and actor Yehoram Gaon; American Rabbi Marvin Hier; co-founder and CTO of Mobileye Amnon Shashua; writer Eli Amir; soccer player Uri Malmilian; Head of the Department of General Surgery at Hadassah Medical Center Dr. Eid Ahmed; Hana Henkin, who lost her son and daughter-in-law in a terror attack; Dina Samte of the Jewish Institute for the Blind; restaurateur Eli Mizrahi; Six-Day War veteran Yaakov Hetz; Taglit-Birthright chairman Michael Steinhardt; Miri Erenthal, who founded the Zichron Menahem organization to aid children with cancer and their families; Lt. Dean Ergil of the paratroopers; and Maj. Yaros Shigut, who immigrated from Ethiopia and currently serves as head of the information department at the Education and Youth Officer's headquarters.
"Each one of the torchbearers will tell the story of Jerusalem from a personal and special perspective. All of them are lovers of Jerusalem who through their actions and spirit contribute to the building, prosperity and beauty of Jerusalem," said Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev before the ceremony.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein delivered the first speech at the celebrations, proclaiming, in accordance with the theme, that “Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel forever and ever.”
He urged his listeners against divisions along political or religious lines, citing the warnings from Jewish history. "In the days of the Second Temple, the split within the Jewish people led to destruction and exile ,” he said. “Today, at the beginning of the seventieth year of the state, we must internalize that not everything in our life is right or left, not every rightist is a fascist, and not every leftist is a traitor. This unacceptable way of thinking we will lead to division and bring destruction upon ourselves."
In addition to the torch-lighting ceremony, IDF soldiers put on a marching display, during which they formed elaborate shapes, including the Star of David and the number 69. It is the first year the display was commanded by master of ceremonies Lt. Col. (res.) Shimon Deri, replacing Col. (ret.) David Rokani, who led the marching soldiers for 34 years.
The opening ceremony included performances by singer Rita, who sand sing "Jerusalem of Gold"; singers Rivka Zohar and Liron Lev, sang "Ma Avarech" ("With What Shall I Bless Him"); musician Ishay Ribo sang one of his own songs with the accompaniment of 17 piano players from the Mizmor School of Music and the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music; finally, composer Avner Gadassi, singer Nasreen Qadri and singer Sapir Saban performed a medley of songs about Jerusalem alongside hundreds of dancers and singing choirs.
Also among the performers were the dance troupe Galgal NaMa'agal, which includes dancers with physical disabilities, some of whom are disabled IDF veterans.
The ceremony, which was hosted by journalist Tamar Ish-Shalom and Jacky Levy, will end with a fireworks display.
Across the country, Israelis will make their way to city squares where performances, booths, dancing and other activities will be waiting for them, alongside local fireworks displays put up by each city. Click here for events in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Celebrations will continue on Tuesday morning, starting with a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. The ceremony will begin at 8:45am with an honor military flyover of a Sikorsky UH-60A Blackhawk (Yanshuf) and two AH-64D Apache Longbow (Sharaf) helicopters.
It will be followed by the traditional awarding of the Medal of Excellence to soldiers and officers of the IDF. This year, instead of the traditional 120 Medal of Excellence recipients, there will be 121, due to a counting error.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other dignitaries will be in attendance.
Starting at around 9:40am, the Israel Air Force will conduct a fly-over air show consisting of several types of planes and helicopters, which will travel the length of the country as a solute to Israel and its citizens.
For the first time this year, the fly-over will feature the IAF’s new F-35s. Additional IAF planes that will be on display include C-130 (Samson) transport planes Beechcraft King Air (Tzofit) planes, Gulfstream G550 (Shavit & Eitam) planes, the Boeing 707 Reem refueling aircraft and the F-15 and F-16 fighter planes (Barak, Bezal and Ram).
A special flight of the Yasur helicopters will take place in the skies above the center and north of the country between 11:30 and 12:30, and a fleet of F-16s and new Lavi training aircraft will be held in the southern skies, from Eilat to Gvulot Junction between 11:30 and noon.
The International Bible Quiz will take place at 11:30am at the Jerusalem Theater. Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to attend as well.
The final major event of the day will be the Israel Prize ceremony at the International Conventions Center in Jerusalem on 7:30pm. Prime Minister Netanyahu will be in attendance.
During the day, various IDF bases will be opened throughout the country for the general public with a variety of activities.