Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day)

Following World War II and the establishment of the state of Israel, four new holidays, referred to as ‘modern’ Jewish holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar. Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) are observed as national holidays in Israel, and recognized around the world by Jewish communities.

Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. The day of celebration is on or near the fifth day of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which may be moved a day or two if it falls on Shabbat. This holiday usually falls in April or May. On the day before, Israelis observe Yom HaZikaron, remembering those who have lost their lives in defense of the nation.

Dates for Yom HaAtzmaut 

Hebrew Dates: 4 Iyar
5776
6 Iyar
5777
4 Iyar
5778
4 Iyar
5779
Gregorian Dates:
(begins sundown, evening before)
May 12
2016
May 2
2017
April 19
2018
May 9
2019

 

History
On May 14, 1948, a decree was announced by future Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaiming the formation of the State of Israel. It was recognized immediately by the United States, the Soviet Union and most countries of the United Nations. To this day, several of the surrounding Arab nations refuse to acknowledge her existence.

The festival begins in the evening when the nation of Israel celebrates the holiday of freedom. Street festivals, music concerts, parties and cookouts are common occurrences for the event. The night concludes with fireworks displays throughout the country.

The next day is filled with relaxing leisure activities. Museums, nature reserves and parks, and many other attractions are open and offered to the public at no charge. Older children compete in a national Torah Championship. In Jerusalem, the Israel Prize, the nation’s highest award, is given to individuals who are outstanding leaders in their chosen fields.

The day is concluded with an official celebration at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Music, parades and formal speeches lead to the lighting of twelve torches, symbolizing the twelve Tribes of Israel.

Customs and Rituals
As with many of the modern holidays, traditions and customs are still being formed. Most families will host a party or special meal to celebrate the day. Some will include family members, others will also invite close friends.

Homes will be decorated with festive colors and displays of the Israeli flag. Many have chosen to use social media as a way to express their national pride by posting pictures supporting Israel, quotations from her leaders or Scripture and a display of the flag. Some will change their status or tweet messages sharing their love for Israel and the Jewish people.

Funerals and Mourning during Yom Ha Atzmaut
Jewish teaching is very specific about how the deceased should be properly mourned by the family and there are defined Periods of Mourning in Judaism. The most noticeable characteristic of Jewish mourning is the withdrawal of the family to their home following the death of a close relative.

The Jewish burial has unique and specific requirements; most notably, the burial usually takes place within a couple of days after the death. It is usually a time of stress and busyness for the family, as many decisions and details surrounding the funeral must be considered. A telephone call relaying personal condolences would be welcomed.

Public viewing of the body is against Jewish law and tradition. There is no equivalent to the wake or funeral visitation. Today Jewish funerals are held at a funeral home, synagogue, cemetery building or graveside. Attending a funeral is a demonstration of care and concern for the surviving family and respect for the deceased. Invitations to a funeral are rarely offered, but friends are always encouraged to attend. In Judaism accompanying the family to the gravesite is one of the highest forms of kindness.

After the burial, the first a period of mourning begins. Shiva (meaning “seven”) consists of seven days of mourning during which family members remain in their home. During shiva the family would stay home from work, refrain from public appearances, and not conduct any business transactions. Friends and family members would reach out to the bereaved by visiting the home to offer comfort and support.

The celebratory nature of this holiday would not easily fit into the mourning traditions of shiva. However, because of the nature of the holiday, it would be permissible for the family to attend festivities in public if the third day of mourning had already occurred. They would be expected to hold a reserved demeanor and dress.

Because of the sensitive nature of the time of loss, a rabbi should be consulted for proper procedures for mourning during the holiday, particularly in complicated situations. The rabbi will take into account the circumstances, traditions and Scripture and offer guidance.

Remembering Loved Ones during Yom Ha Atzmaut
Yom HaAtzmaut is a prescribed time to celebrate the independence of the Israelites and the formation of its statehood in 1948. Remembering and honoring loved ones who have passed on becomes especially meaningful in this time of national and family pride.

Because Jewish festivals contain moments of remembrance and family, the modern holiday of Yom HaAtzmaut is a perfect time to honor deceased family members as well. Lasting tributes such as contributions to charities, hospitals or hospices, synagogues or other organizations provide meaningful memorials for departed loved ones.

The tradition of inscribing one’s name in the book of life is a common occurrence in the Jewish faith. Families may visit departed loved ones at the cemetery to place a stone, plant a tree in Israel, or dedicate a name plaque. Other meaningful and appropriate ways to memorialize a loved one include the creation of a Plaque and Memory page online through the National Jewish Memorial Wall (NJMW.org). The inclusion on a memorial or yahrzeit wall is a meaningful way to show honor and respect for the deceased.