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Jewish Holidays: Yom Ha'Atzmaut

Israel's Independence Day
Date: May 10, 2000

If you're walking on the streets of Jerusalem and a kid bops you on the head with one of those annoying plastic hammers, it's probably YOM HA'ATZMAUT, Israel's Independence Day. If it isn't, grab the hammer and remove the yellow and green plastic ends. Tell the kid it's in the name of recycling.

YOM HA'ATZMAUT takes place on the 5th of the Hebrew month Iyar, and usually falls at the end of April or beginning of May. It marks the day in 1948 that Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared the country's independence at a Tel Aviv gathering.

Less than 24 hours after that announcement, the neighboring Arab countries declared war on Israel. The Jewish state survived, but the bloody battle cost many soldiers in the ragtag army their lives.

YOM HA'ATZMAUT is significant to virtually all Jews. Secular Jews in Israel mark the importance of an independent Jewish state, while most religious Jews commemorate the establishment of the state as another step in the ultimate redemption, the coming of the Messiah. The celebration overrides the religious prohibition against listening to music during the counting of the Omer between Passover and Shavout.

There is, however, a small minority of Jews who do not celebrate YOM HA'ATZMAUT at all. Known in Israel as Charedim, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews, these Jews believe that the modern State of Israel was established prematurely without God's blessing. As a result, they refrain as much as possible from matters of the state.

For everyone else in Israel, the national holiday is a welcome day off. Businesses and schools close. Most people take a field trip or go on a picnic, while some just relax. Religious Jews add extra prayers into the services.

If 5 Iyar falls out on a Friday or Shabbat, YOM HA'ATZMAUT is moved up to a Thursday, to prevent any celebrations leading to desecration of the Sabbath. But that still won't prevent you from getting head-bopped.

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