Yom Ha’atzmaut is Israel’s independence day which immediately follows Yom Hazikaron, which is Israel’s memorial day. While for many it is difficult to go immediately from a day of mourning to a day of celebration, we felt like the juxtposition of the two holidays was very meaningful. Before one can celebrate independence, one must remember what people had to sacrifice to achieve it. The fact that Israel is a relatively new country (this year was 65!) also makes the memorial and the celebration more intense. Many living in Israel remember when independence was won, and many have someone close to them who died fighting to gain this independence and to protect it once it was established. Americans cannot say that. Memorial day has become a day off from work and school to go shopping and have a BBQ. The wars fought for our country’s right to exist as we now cherish it are so far removed from everyday life that there is no real connection. It is refreshing to see an entire nation celebrating the existence of their country with such joy!
We wanted to experience some of the festivities, but without dealing with the major crowds since I don’t really enjoy being smashed by people (I refer to it as people claustrophobia). In conversations with friends, we learned that Yom Ha’atzmaut is essentially National BBQ Day. Lots of people were having BBQs Monday night, and even more planned to have one on Tuesday. Throughout the country there were concerts and fireworks. Being American, I have a soft spot for fireworks and wanted a chance to see the ones near us which started at 10:30. After a bit of a late dinner, Adam, my parents, and I got on a bus and made our way toward the center of town where things seemed to be happening. Because of the festivities, the buses were running on different routes, and we were a little worried about knowing when to get off. It turned out to be an easy decision though; we just followed the other people who were packed onto the bus. We originally thought we would head towards Ben Yehuda Street, but we found ourselves near Jerusalem’s municipality buildings instead. Here, on the large plaza, a stage had been set up. There was music and dancing. We were able to participate and stay off to the side so I didn’t feel so closed in by the crowds. Shortly after we arrived the fireworks started. They were beautiful, but only lasted for about 3 or 4 minutes. I am still happy that we got to see them though!
We stayed until the concert came to an end. Then we followed the crowds and made our way back home. When we got home, we got ready for bed since we wanted to leave early the next morning. As we got ready for bed, we saw more fireworks from our kitchen window. They appeared above the Jerusalem Theater, which is always lit up at night. It was beautiful.
The next morning, we got up early and got ourselves together. While everyone else in the country was sleeping in and then having BBQs, we decided it was the perfect day to start my parents’ touring; we decided to go to Masada and the Dead Sea. It was a good decision too since the forecast for Jerusalem was a bit rainy…where we were headed it was supposed to be mostly sunny.
Before we left we put a flag on the rental car to further join in with the festivities. For the weeks leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Hazikaron, Israeli flags had started to appear everywhere. People had them hanging from their apartments and houses, people had them attached to the windows of their cars, and there were even these sock-like things that would fit over the side-mirrors of the car. We put up a flag on our clothes line; Adam got it for free when he bought a newspaper. Adam also bought one for the rental car when he met my parents at the airport. It is so amazing to see such patriotism. I wish we still had that in America…
The ride to Masada was easy. My dad drove, and we stopped here and there along the way for him to take pictures. As we got closer we started to see more tour buses, which meant we weren’t the only ones touring on the holiday. We got to Masada, parked the car, and then took the tram car to the top. A lot of people hike to the top but to do that, you have to start really early to beat the heat. Neither my mom nor I were really up for the hike anyway, and by taking the tram, it saved our energy for walking around the top of the mountain.
For those of you who don’t know, Masada is a mountain to the south of Jerusalem, with very steep sides which make it a perfect for defending against enemies. King Herod (who was very paranoid) built two palaces on the top of Masada along with all the other amenities he would need to live there. After Herod died, during the Roman occupation of Israel, a group of rebels escaped from Jerusalem and went to Masada to live. They modified a number of Herod’s buildings to make it more suitable for families to live. These men and women were a group of zealots who were active in the rebellion against Rome. Eventually they became a big enough thorn in Rome’s side that the Romans set up a siege around Masada. The story unfortunately doesn’t end happily, but I won’t tell you the details. Maybe you will visit one day…
As you walk around Masada, you can see both what Herod built and what the rebels built to make it more suitable for their lifestyles. Herod’s palaces were gigantic and contained beautiful mosaics. The rebels modified buildings to make a Beit Midrash (place of study), houses, and a synagogue. In the synagogue there is a man writing a Sefer Torah but since it was a holiday, we didn’t get to see him working on it.
Adam and I had already visited Masada when we came to Israel two years ago. We went with a tour guide and spent about four hours walking around, learning the detailed history of what happened on the mountain. As we walked with my parents, the information we had learned came back to us and we were able to share it with my mom and dad. We spent a good two or three hours walking around. My favorite part is the view of the Dead Sea.
After we took the tram car back down, we drove to Ein Gedi where there is an entrance to the Dead Sea. Adam and I had come to this point when we visited two years ago and thought it would be the best place to access the sea. One glitch is that we had planned on eating lunch here since when we were there 2 years ago, there had been a restaurant. Apparently 2 years is longer than we thought and the restaurant had shut down. Rather than go find another place to eat and then come back, we decided to get some ice cream from the snack stand nearby. It is okay to eat ice cream that close to going into the Dead Sea because it isn’t like you are going to be swimming. You just float!
The beach area leading to the sea itself was crowded with people having BBQs and really enjoying the holiday. The air smelled like meat and was filled with laughter as people ran and played. As we got closer to the sea, it became much more crowded, but we were able to find places to float. As always it was an awesome experience! There is nothing like floating around in the water!! My dad had a wonderful time floating, and my mom liked looking at the different rocks along the bottom. There were a lot less salt crystals then when Adam and I had been there, but it was only April and we had originally come in July when it was much hotter. In fact, we had a gorgeous day; a bit windy but very comfortable.
After we got changed from our floating experience, we went to the Ein Gedi spa where we were informed there is a restaurant. It turns out that there is one, but it was closing up for the day. Oh well! We hopped back in the car and made our way back to Jerusalem. When we got home, we washed up since we were still covered in salt, and then went out for a nice dinner at an Italian place on Emek Refaim. It was a lovely end to a wonderful day!
Until next time…
Here are some pictures from the Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities and from our travels to Masada and the Dead Sea.