No fireworks this year as Israel plans for subdued Independence Day celebrations

National government, local municipalities and authorities decide to hold lowkey ceremonies for country’s 76th anniversary amid ongoing war

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Fireworks at the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on April 25, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Fireworks at the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on April 25, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Israel will hold subdued celebrations without fireworks at national and local ceremonies marking the 76th Independence Day, officials said amid the ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza and the hostage crisis.

The national ceremony, managed by Transportation and Road Safety Minister Miri Regev, won’t have fireworks this year, said a spokesperson for the ceremony. The steering committee was still deciding on other facets of the event.

“We can’t celebrate as usual on Independence Day as long as our hostages aren’t home,” said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai in a statement last week.

“The State of Israel is in the midst of one of its most difficult hours and it’s not a time for celebrations and fireworks. It’s the time to focus on getting the hostages back and to bring quiet and security to the south and north.”

In Tel Aviv, said Huldai, there will be no fireworks and fewer events, most of them focused within neighborhoods instead of large central gatherings.

Huldai was reacting to an Instagram post in which singer and “Fauda” actor Idan Amedi, who was wounded in combat in Gaza, declined an invitation to be a torch bearer in the annual Mount Herzl ceremony in Jerusalem marking the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day.

Israeli singer-songwriter, actor and reserve soldier Idan Amedi who was seriously injured while fighting in the Gaza Strip, wipes away tears at a press conference upon his discharge from Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, January 25, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“This year I’ll stay home and commune with their memory, like many others in the nation of Israel,” wrote Amedi. He was badly burned in an explosion on January 8 as he served as a commander in the Combat Engineering Corps reserves in Gaza. Six soldiers were killed in the incident.

“I hope perhaps in the future I will be granted the merit to raise a torch thanks to the words I write and not due to war heroism,” he said.

Jerusalem won’t have any fireworks this year, said a municipality spokesperson, but no other decisions have been made about other events, which usually include concerts and celebrations in the parks.

The capital city was heavily criticized for planning a central Purim parade this year, its first in 42 years. Days before the holiday, Mayor Moshe Lion met with hostage families and agreed to tone down the event, changing the name of the parade and lowering the number and volume of musical events. It went ahead with relatives of some hostages at the front of the march.

Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group lead a Purim parade in Jerusalem, March 25, 2024. The banner, a reference to the imperatives to see the hostages released, literally translates as: Redeeming the captives is a great commandment. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion is third from left. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

“It’s not a year for celebrations,” said Shai Benjamin, daughter of hostage Ron Benjamin, in an interview with The Times of Israel before Purim.

The ongoing war began with an assault by Gazan terror group Hamas on southern Israel in which some 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, of whom half remain in captivity. In addition, 256 soldiers have been killed in fighting in Gaza, and eight civilians and 10 IDF soldiers have been killed in clashes with Hezbollah on the northern border.

Muted celebrations were also expected in Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, Haifa, Ashdod, Afula, Netanya, Herzliya, Petah Tikva, Rishon Lezion, Beersheba and Modiin, according to a report by the Kan public broadcaster.

Ra’aana Mayor Chaim Broyde told Kan that his city, like the rest of Israel, is experiencing the pain of the bereaved families and praying for the release of the hostages and the recovery of the injured.

“In this situation, it’s impossible to have the usual Independence Day celebrations,” said Broyde. “We’ll have community events in the city’s neighborhoods.”

Israelis stand in silence next to graves of soldiers at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem during the Memorial Day siren, April 25, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Broyde’s neighboring mayor, Herzliya Mayor Yariv Fisher, told a local paper that the city conducted a survey and found that the majority of residents wanted to hold smaller celebrations out of consideration and solidarity with the bereaved families and families of the hostages.

“We’ll celebrate, but differently,” said Bat Yam Mayor Tzvika Brot in a statement to a local newspaper. “Our independence is much more than just a reason to party. It has an existential meaning for the Jewish people, from the Declaration of Independence until this very moment. We will never let our enemies and haters stop our joy, but we will not have fireworks this year, and instead, there will be drone shows in the sky.”

Some cities, however, haven’t made any final decisions about the upcoming national holidays.

“We’re debating,” said the spokesperson for the desert city of Arad. “We haven’t decided yet what to do.”

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