With great fanfare and excitement, Israel opened celebrations of its 71st Independence Day.
The traditional torch-lighting ceremony included all the beloved performances and speeches that Israelis and Diaspora Jews wait for all year, under the slogan “Because of the spirit – the spirit of the People of Israel.”
“Against all odds we returned to our homeland,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein proclaimed at the opening of the ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, members of Knesset and hundreds of others.
“Continue to believe in yourself, continue going forward against all odds. You will one day stand here and light a torch for the glory of Israel,” he told children from all over the country who tuned in for the celebration.
Twelve torches were lit by Jews from Israel and the Diaspora, including a resident of the south, the head of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation, the mothers of the three kidnapped and killed boys that led to Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and others.
The honorees represented a variety of fields, many epitomizing Israelis who turned their personal struggles into inspirational life stories.
Morris Kahn, who funded the spacecraft Beresheet that nearly reached the moon in April but crash-landed minutes before it was supposed to touch down, provided an amusing moment when he went completely off-script of the prepared speech instead of praising the SpaceIL engineers and Israel’s spirit. He eventually promised to be involved in Beresheet 2.0. An entertained audience and a smiling Netanyahu thanked him with laughs and standing ovations.
Musical renditions of Israeli classics and fireworks entertained an excited audience who made it to Israel’s capital. The ceremony concluded with a traditional flag-dance, performed by soldiers who trained for months to perfect the symbols and messages they formed.
Hundreds of celebrations are planned across the country on Wednesday night, with Israel greatest artists set perform their best songs. On Thursday most Israelis will flock to nature parks, beaches and other destinations to enjoy BBQs.