Yom Haatzmaut

One of the most significant days for those who observe Judaism, Yom Haatzmaut, or Israel Independence Day, is a time for celebration and is held in late April or May every year. The day is dependent on the Hebrew calendar and marks the day in 1948 when Israel declared its independence. The celebrations are on a national level, with the whole country involved. It always follows Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli National Memorial Day, which is a more somber affair as the day observes the country’s fallen in battle.

But what does Yom Haatzmaut involve, how did it come to be a recognized day, and how do people celebrate? Let’s find out more.

History of Yom Haatzmaut

The initial concept of an independent Israel dates back to the 1800s when a Jewish man, Theodor Herzl from Pest, Hungary, campaigned for a Jewish state. He believed it should be in the Middle East and was heavily involved in the formation of the Zionist Organization.

It was after the atrocious treatment of Jewish people in the early 1900s and during World War II that the call for a Jewish State started to gain momentum again. Then, on May 14, David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, declared the independence of Israel, marking the day for the first time.

The Jewish calendar denotes that Yom Haatzmaut cannot fall on the fifth day of the month of Iyar if it is a Sunday. If this day falls on a Friday or Saturday, it must be observed on the third or the fourth day. If it is a Monday, it must be observed on the sixth day of Iyar. This is all being mindful that celebrations are not around the same time as the Sabbath.

The Switch

This is the switch between Israeli Memorial Day and Israeli Independence Day. This occurs in the minutes after sundown and is a time between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut as the flag is raised from half-mast (in honor of Memorial Day) to the top. The President then delivers a congratulatory speech, and the different armed forces parade their flags.

There is also the ceremonial lighting of twelve torches, which symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel. Each is held by different people recognized for their significant impact on the country.

How To Observe Yom Haatzmaut

As with many celebrations in Israel, observing Yom Haatzmaut begins the evening before. This is where the switch occurs and marks the start of the celebrations. From this point, it is not uncommon for members of the public to shower each other in silly string as fireworks are set off throughout the city.

The Israeli flag is a common sight around this time, so expect to see it hanging from the windows of houses and cars or draped over the backs of youths and adults alike. It isn’t just a feast for the eyes; the Torah will be read by religious leaders, and the sound of the blowing of a horn, or shofar, is going to sound intermittently.

The next day, the celebrations continue with festivals and parades throughout the city. Overhead, there is a military plane flyby, then the Israel Prize is handed out. This is the highest honor and is given to up to 15 people each year, presented in the presence of the Prime Minister, among others.

Many families gather, and some will still be staying with one another after Yom Hazikaron. They will often have BBQs, picnics, head to the parks, and celebrate together.

If you wish to observe the day from afar, a good way to get involved is to educate yourself on what the day means to the Israeli people. Other ways involve cooking traditional Israeli food; falafel, hummus, and pita are some of the classic dishes that are readily available and can be made via a recipe online. Another common way to celebrate is over a BBQ. Invite friends from the Jewish community and cook up a feast. If your friends can talk without it becoming a heated debate, a lot of people like to talk about politics. Better still, why not talk about peace.

Is Yom Haatzmaut A Public Holiday?

In Israel, it is a public holiday, but not in the rest of the world. Still, this does not mean that Jewish communities do not celebrate. Jewish businesses and communities around the world may choose to close at this time to observe the day.

In Israel, expect schools and businesses to close and public transport to operate at a limited service.

Where is it celebrated?
Canada (Jewish holiday)United States (Jewish holiday)Australia (Jewish holiday) Show all
When is it?
This year (2024)
May 14 Tuesday
Next year (2025)
May 1 Thursday
Last year (2023)
April 26 Wednesday