At the typically Israeli restaurant Lemon Grass, near Rabin Square, a shockingly noisy group of American-Jewish teenage boys sat and sang "Hineh Ma Tov U'ma Na'im," banging their fists on the tables. It was early evening, but the masses were already swarming to the square.

It was also a holiday for the wretched: peddlers of ephemera - two glo-bracelets for five shekels, twinkle-light jubilee glasses - and the miserable bottle collectors. Everyone made a bundle, as they say.

Mina Tomei, another typically Israeli restaurant, was crowded. At Lehem Erez there was a long line for skewers of grilled meat that spewed smoke over the street.

Was Tel Aviv burning? The hawkers of the silly string that replaced the plastic hammers of our childhood also made a killing that night. Why is pestering thy neighbor a sign of independence and joy? That's something we should ask ourselves sometime.

At the square there were more people than at all the handful of demonstrations held there in recent years. The latest thing: wrapping oneself in an Israeli flag, like at the March of the Living, like at Maccabi games. "Donation for food," one panhandler wrote on his cardboard sign, in vain. On the former National Insurance Institute building a sign proclaims: "For Sale, Duplex Penthouses."

At precisely 10:30 P.M. the big show kicked off, "Lighting the Skies." Several merry young Braslav Hasidim were also pretty lit, dancing as usual not far from there. One of them, Ben Tzahala, seven years' repentant, tried to sell me "In the Peace Garden - A Guide to Domestic Peace, for Men Only."

The square darkened, and the sound-and-light show began. There's nothing like fireworks and laser beams to delude and deceive: the fireworks that light everything up, then fade and disappear seconds later, and the laser - that colorful and elusive beam that creates a spectacular illusion - is itself illusive. The laser and fireworks were, how fitting, the stars of the night at the square.

My neighbor Ruthie returned home satisfied: The circles of dancers reminded her of when independence was declared. Ruthie also found that "we have young people and we have a future." Great, Ruthie, but what on earth are we to do about the adults and the present?