Tel Aviv Takes Center Stage on Israel's 61st Independence Day

Israel's 61st Independence Day was marked by Israeli outings - outside the home, out of town and some even outside the country. Unfortunately, holiday fireworks also led to one injury.

The celebrations began on Tuesday on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, as the flags lowered to half-mast for Memorial Day were raised again, and the ceremonial torches were lit.

This year, festivities centered around the theme of Tel Aviv's centennial. Among Tuesday's torch-bearers were Tel Aviv's iconic former mayor Shlomo ("Chich") Lahat, and the son of Israeli painter, sculptor and author Nahum Gutman, in whose art the city was frequently featured.

In Tel Aviv itself, police had to cordon off the popular Florentin neighborhood, as the number of street-party revelers exceeded the anticipated 5,000. In Givatayim, both religious and secular Jews marked the occasion at the city's Wohelin square. "We are celebrating with [kidnapped Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit in our hearts," said one local resident, Maya Hirsch, 40. "Independence is not something you take for granted."

The celebrations were marred when a pyrotechnician was gravely injured while launching the fireworks at Moshav Kadima, near Kfar Sava. Police said initial inquiries indicate that one of the rockets used to shoot the fireworks display misfired, hitting the man in the neck. He was treated on the scene by Magen David Adom teams and the director of the surgical department at Kfar Sava's Meir Hospital, a resident of the moshav. After an initial field surgery, the injured man was evacuated to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, where he remains hospitalized in serious condition.

Yesterday, spectators on promenades in Israel's coastal cities observed a parade of the Israeli Navy, and a fly-by performed by the Air Force. The military aircrafts were joined, for the very first time, by civilian ones - as four El-Al airplanes saluted Tel Aviv. The lead plane, a Boeing 747-400, named "Tel Aviv," was accompanied by a Boeing 777 named "Sderot," a 767 named "Mishmar Haemek," and a 737 named "Kinneret."

Some 15,000 Israelis left the country to take their holiday abroad yesterday, with the overall number of outgoing passengers from Ben-Gurion International Airport this week expected to exceed 50,000.