Yom ha'Atzmaut in Tel Aviv

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When I was 7 years old, I learned that Israelis go to the beach to celebrate Yom ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. What I didn't learn was that this creates a gigantic traffic jam in Jerusalem's Central Bus Station. (That new train line connecting Tel Aviv and central Jerusalem can't come soon enough!)

Bus station 1.jpgUpon arriving in Tel Aviv, we found celebration everywhere, including an endless sea of Israeli flags. We also found the second-worst traffic jam I've ever seen in Tel Aviv (second only to the torrential rain and flooding of January 2013), so we walked the last mile to the beach, which was also packed to capacity. 

Beach 1.JPGThe beachgoers were watching an extended airshow put on by the Israeli Air Force, including a precision exhibition team from the flight school and 23 separate flyovers spanning almost 3 hours. I've always been conflicted about this type of show because I LOVE airplanes, but I maintain a general distaste for militaristic nationalism. I understand that Yom ha'Atzmaut is a holiday celebrating Israel's birthday, and that defense is an important part of Israel society, but (in both America and Israel) I think it sends the wrong message when you center a key aspect of the celebration around the strength of the military. (I'll note that in my role as an observer, I hesitated to share this particular viewpoint until I heard it from the mouth of an Israeli.)

Flyover 1.jpgFlyover 2.jpgWe stopped for lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant, with a view of Rothschild Blvd. As all of the celebrants walked, biked, and drove by, we enjoyed a meal of my 3rd-favorite Israeli food, schnitzel. They even served it with a little Israeli flag! 

Schnitzel 1.jpgThe grassy island in the center of Rothschild featured an interactive independence-themed exhibit to which children could contribute. This panel illustrated Israel's Declaration of Independence. 

Rothschild 1.jpgWe returned to the beach for some (rather chilly) swimming time, on a beach full of sunbathing Israelis. We then headed to the other end of Rothschild to explore Tel Aviv's newly-opened Independence Trail, a path connecting several of Tel Aviv's historical monuments. It began with the first kiosk (sidewalk café) built in Tel Aviv, currently home to EspressoBar.

Independence Trail 1.jpgEach stop features an explanatory sign, and a plaque on the sidewalk with a stylized image of the landmark. (Perhaps marking the ideal location for a photograph?) We took sample pictures at each of the 10 locations, both selfies and regular portraits - perhaps I'll post the full set later on!

Independence trail 2.jpgThe selection of sites was a little confusing. Some sites totally made sense, like the Great Synagogue, the former Haganah headquarters, and Tel Aviv's first kiosk. Others, like the office building built on the site of the former Hertzliyah Gymnasium, or the Taglit-Birthright Israel Innovation Center (listed on the map under "other sites"), felt like a stretch. 

Independence trail 3.jpgThe Independence Trail ended at Independence Hall, the site of Israel's Declaration of Independence ceremony in 1948. From an historical perspective, it felt really special to stand in front of that same building exactly 70 years later, and it makes me wonder what Israel's founders would say about the current state of Israel. The City of Tel Aviv printed a booklet with the original 1948 newspaper stories about independence, which was cool to (try to) read in front of Independence Hall.

Independence hall 1a.jpgLater, as the sun set over the Mediterranean, Tel Aviv began a series of video projections on buildings throughout the city. Some were simply pretty, some were playful and whimsical, and others were historical, like this projection turning the building into a radio/television playing news of the United Nations vote on Israel's statehood, complete with a running ticker at the top of how each country voted. Later in the program, the music swells under a techno-style remix of the word "yes" from the vote.

Another projection, on Independence Hall, featured several modern Israeli citizens sharing their feelings about independence. It was less flashy than the others, but the only one I saw that featured modern Israelis. To me, it was the projection best aligned with the point of the holiday - not just celebrating a 70-year-old victory, but thinking critically about how to carry Israel forward for the next 70 years.

Projections 2a.jpg

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