Israelis ushered in Independence Day on Wednesday evening free of most of the coronavirus health restrictions that put a damper on last year’s festivities.
The main official ceremonies marking 73 years of Israeli independence were held Wednesday evening on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, featuring a torch-lighting ceremony honoring health care professionals who have been on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic over the past year.
The 14 torch lighters also included teachers, Israelis who have lost loved ones in terror attacks and a prominent victim of domestic violence.
The torch lighters included Dr. Dror Dicker, director of the department of internal medicine at Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva, a head nurse of an Afula hospital’s COVID-19 unit and nurse from the Acre area.
Torches were also lit by Shira Isakov and Adi Guzi. Isakov was attacked and nearly killed last fall at her home in Mitzpeh Ramon. Her husband has been indicted in the attack.
Guzi, Isakov’s neighbor, came to her aid and is being recognized for risking her life to save Isakov. Among the other torch lighters were singer Shlomi Shabat and Gabriela Sztrigler Lew, a young woman from Mexico who represented the Shalom Corps international Jewish volunteer program.
Independence Day began at 8 P.M. concluding the 24-hour observance of Memorial Day. Towns and cities across the country arranged their own local celebrations including fireworks and entertainment by many of Israel’s top singers.
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Independence Day festivities continue on Thursday with an Israel Air Force flyby in the skies over much of the country between 10:30 A.M. and 1 P.M. and the annual international Bible competition, which begins at 11 A.M. Independence Day is also a time when many Israelis take to parks for the traditional holiday barbecue.
The official observance of the holiday will conclude Thursday evening with the broadcast of the Israel Prize awards ceremony in a range of fields.
The Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor, has been the subject of controversy this year due to Education Minister Yoav Gallant blocking the selection of Weizmann Institute Prof. Oded Goldreich from receiving the prize in math and computer science, as a result of his political statements.
Goldreich denies supporting the boycott movement against Israel, and following litigation on the matter, the education minister will reevaluate his stance, leaving the door open for the professor to receive the award at a later date.
As of Independence Day 2021, Israel has a population of 9.3 million, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, a far cry from the 806,000 residents when Israel declared its independence in 1948.
Nearly 74 percent of the current population is Jewish and 21 percent Arab, according to the statistics agency, with the remaining percentage composed of other backgrounds. These figures include Israelis living in the West Bank but not Palestinians.
Since last Independence Day, the population has grown by 137,000 people, including 16,300 new immigrants to the country. The statistics bureau projects that on Israel’s 100th birthday in 2048, the country will have a population of 15.2 million.