Picture of the the annual flyby held by the Israeli Air Force across the country [photo: Israeli Defense Forces]

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to celebrate on the streets as the State of Israel marks its 70th birthday this Thursday. Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, occurs on the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, which falls this Thursday, April 19. The date changes each year as it is determined by the Hebrew calendar.

The number 70 is considered to be of great significance in Judaism as it traditionally signifies a full lifespan, with King David recorded as having lived to exactly 70 years of age.

An official ceremony is held annually on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the evening before Independence Day, with speeches given by the Knesset speaker, marching soldiers, and the lighting ceremony featuring twelve torches – one for each of the twelve biblical Tribes of Israel. Most cities hold outdoor performances in central locations, with popular local musicians participating.

In most cities, some streets are closed off to traffic, and a carnival atmosphere develops, aided by fireworks and light shows, singalongs and rock and pop concerts. Normal sound limit laws are scrapped each year this night, and thousands gather in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to party, sing and dance through the night.

Children all over the country eagerly anticipate the annual flyby held by the Israeli Air Force across the country, while museums and military sites and other attractions open their doors to the general public free of charge, and Israeli families celebrate with picnics and barbecues. Balconies are decorated with the Israeli colors, and small flags are attached to car windows.

Perennially popular is the International Bible Contest, which was founded by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The main prize is a full scholarship to Israel’s leading religious college, Bar Ilan University, where students receive academic degrees together with mandatory religious classes.

Israeli television channels air the official events live, and classic Israeli movies and skits are shown.

Many religious Jews view the founding of the State of Israel as a modern-day miracle and regard it as cause to recite the special “Hallel” prayer and praise God for the gift of the renewed Jewish homeland.