Hundreds of thousands of Israelis flocked to beaches and parks across the country Thursday, barbecuing, waving flags and craning their necks for a glimpse of the Air Force fighter jets’ flyby to mark the country’s 73rd Independence Day.
While most wore face coverings or had masks strapped around their chins, the scenes looked nearly identical to those from the pre-coronavirus era. After an early wave of the pandemic tamed celebrations significantly last year, Israelis were allowed to celebrate freely this year, with restrictions drawn back almost entirely.
As a result, families flocked to national parks and beaches, filling many to full capacity. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority issued a statement early Thursday afternoon urging civilians to avoid traveling to the Tel Ashkelon National Park in the coming hours due to overcrowding.
The Tze’elon, Shikmim and Amnon beaches at the Sea of Galilee were also shuttered to additional visitors after reaching full capacity, the parks authority said.
Meanwhile, Israeli Air Force planes jetted across the country to mark the occasion. The flyover, a popular and iconic feature of Independence Day celebrations, is passing over more cities and towns than usual this year in what the Israel Defense Forces has called a “salute” to all Israeli citizens.
Last year, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the flyby saluted medical staff over the nation’s hospitals.
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Other official Independence Day events scheduled for Thursday included the International Bible Contest in the morning and the Israel Prize ceremony, which will be held at 6:30 p.m.
Israelis also traditionally celebrate the holiday with private gatherings that often include outdoor cookouts.
Municipalities are permitted to hold Independence Day celebrations for the vaccinated. In locales with limited risk of infection, depending on the size of the venue, up to 3,000 vaccinated people are allowed to gather indoors and 5,000 outdoors.
Independence Day began Wednesday evening as Memorial Day came to an end, with the annual state ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
The juxtaposition of the two days is a key element of Israelis’ experience of national independence, ensuring that no commemoration completely excludes the achievement wrought by the sacrifice of the fallen and their families, and that the elation of independence is never far removed from an awareness of its cost.