Israel’s political and military leaders gathered in Jerusalem Tuesday morning to toast outstanding soldiers for Israel’s 66th Independence Day, with President Shimon Peres telling troops they will face challenges further afield than generations before them.
The annual Singing Independence event at the President’s Residence featured soldiers and politicians doing their best renditions of Israeli icon Arik Einstein, who died in November at age 74.
Longtime reality singing competition host Tzvika Hadar hosted the event, humorously addressing an audience of dignitaries which included IDF Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Peres — with a little help from Iranian-born diva Rita — then led the troops in a rendition of Uf Gozal, one of Einstein’s most popular songs, or “Fly Little Bird.”
Watch a live feed of the event here:
The 90-year-old president had a solemn message for the soldiers, telling them they should be prepared to face threats beyond Israel’s borders.
“Your generation will need to stand against more demanding winds blowing from distant horizons more than immediate borders,” he said.
“Your generation is better prepared, is better equipped, is faster, is more accurate, is more varied, is more updated. A generation whose feet are planted on the ground but who mind is already in the future,” he added.
Peres said the soldiers of today were the “guarantors” of Israel’s safety and the “promise” of its peace.
“The IDF and the security forces are respected as the greatest force in the fight against terror and an organization that can produce enormous power,” he said.
Peres said that in light of the threats Israel faced, its army was instrumental in ensuring its continued survival.
‘From the day our country was born until this day we have faced a stark choice: To cease or to win. To withdraw or to fly. We made the right choice,” he said.
“The bravery of the soldiers of the IDF is worth more than any other resource … You are the proof that even without quantity, we can reach quality through excellence.”
Praising Israel’s technological innovations, Peres said the young country, a “thriving democracy” with a “pluralistic society,” would not tired of the task of “tikkun olam” – bettering the world.
“While she is filled with self-criticism, Israel also discovers that volunteerism flows through the nation to repair, to improve, to complete,” he said.
“Our existence here is guaranteed by the heroism of our soldiers, by the dedication of our pioneers and our concern for those that will come after us.”
Netanyahu, who led the choir in a rendition of Einstein’s “Shir Hashayara,” or “The Convoy Song” — about Israel’s unique history and culturally diverse society — addressed the soldiers as well.
“I am always proud to be the Prime Minister of Israel but especially so today,” he said. “The outstanding soldiers operate in the air, in the water and on land to ensure the security of the state. I know that we have who to rely upon when we send you on operations. I want to thank your parents who raised and educated you to contribute to the state, thank you on behalf of the citizens of Israel.”
Ganz praised the soldiers for being “always on guard” to protect Israel on every front.
“On land, in the air and in the water, along all our borders, on the front lines and the home front our forces operate with unparalleled dedication and courage. It is because of those soldiers that we can celebrate Independence Day — and thanks to them, we will continue to celebrate our freedom,” he said.
Millions of Israelis are expected to celebrate the holiday by visiting nature and heritage sites and throwing barbecues. A flyover by Israel Defense Forces jets will take place around the country starting at 11 p.m. in Be’er Sheva and working their way north until 1 p.m., with flights over major cities.
The army will also open up many of its bases for visits by the public.
Late Tuesday morning, four heritage sites, the Atlit detainee camp, the Ayalon Institute in Rehovot, the Begin Center in Jerusalem, and the Bank of Israel Museum, also in Jerusalem, were closed to the public after being flooded with visitors.