A nation that waited 2,000 years to be reborn could be forgiven an all-night binge with whistles and horns when the moment arrived. It didn't quite work out that way for Israel.
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In the early afternoon of May 14, 1948, eight hours before the British Mandate was due to expire, the Jewish National Council convened at Tel Aviv’s then-Museum of Art. It was to have been a secret session that Friday afternoon, for fear that Egyptian warplanes would find and target almost the entire leadership of the new-born Jewish state. But the word was out and thousands thronged the streets.
The war was already six months old, and behind the thick walls and high windows of the museum there was some trepidation of an aerial attack. Remarkably, the session began on time, took only 32 minutes, and included the reading by David Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, of the Declaration of Independence, a blessing, and a singing of the national anthem to orchestral accompaniment.
“Long live the State of Israel,” Ben-Gurion announced, banging his gavel: “This meeting is adjourned.” The crowd dispersed, the dignitaries put their formal dress back in mothballs, and everybody returned to the sober issue of survival.
Today called Independence Hall, the building at 16 Rothschild Blvd., is a bit unprepossessing, considering its venerable place in modern Israeli history.
The momentous occasion of the Declaration was organized hurriedly, in an almost slapdash manner. The podium was knocked together by two carpenters working through the night; the original chairs were borrowed from nearby coffee shops, and the rugs, now threadbare, were lent by neighboring stores. The microphone (a replica stands there today) was the contribution of one of the city’s rare sound-equipment suppliers, on condition his company name appeared on it.
A visit includes a film, with old footage of Tel Aviv’s early years, recalling the legendary mayor, Meir Dizengoff, whose home this was before it was converted into an art museum.
The casual visitor can explore the hall and the tiny historical museum alone, but one can join a tour group (call ahead for details) to get a richer presentation from a local guide.
The site has been spruced up a bit of late. Ambitious future plans include a NIS 50 million makeover, including (it is said) high-tech, state-of-the-art interactive exhibits.
The building is on tree-lined Rothschild Blvd., one of Tel Aviv’s oldest avenues, which stretches all the way to the Mann Auditorium and Dizengoff Street, with numerous restaurants, coffee shops and shaded park benches along its length.
Opening hours Sun.-Thurs. 9am-2pm (entrance fee)