President Reuven Rivlin hosted the annual Independence Day ceremony at his official residence on Thursday to award the army’s annual citations for distinguished service to 120 Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
The annual musical event at the President’s Residence sees Israel’s leaders hand out commendations of excellence to troops, while reminiscing about their own military service.
The Independence Day event began at 9:30 a.m. and was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, and other current and former senior army figures.
“Everything that is a challenge, becomes an opportunity for us,” Rivlin told the soldiers as he recalled the 71 years of Israel’s history. “That is the Israeli spirit.”
“You, who are not afraid of challenges, who are ready for the unexpected, who pull harder and stronger than anyone, you are Israel’s hope and spirit that beats within us, that leads us,” he told the soldiers. “On behalf of the citizens of Israel, and personally, I would like to thank you and salute you. Thank you for your spirit, for your commitment.”
Israeli innovation was also cheered by Kohavi, who told the crowd: “Israelis never take things as final status. They always look at how it can be improved further… That is very Israeli.”
Rivlin also posted photos of each of the honored soldiers on his Facebook page — albeit with avatars instead of actual portraits for those whose military duties are classified, usually indicating service in elite units. Of the 11 soldiers whose identity remained under wraps, two are women.
Independence Day celebrations began on Wednesday night with an official torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and will continue throughout Thursday.
Another staple of Independence Day celebrations, the annual Bible Quiz competition finals, are slated to take place after the presidential ceremony.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to visit national parks and museums throughout the day — many of which are open without charge — as well as IDF displays of jeeps, tanks and other equipment at bases throughout the country.
Meanwhile, the hallmark flyovers of combat planes and helicopters will begin over the country’s skies from 11 a.m. Flyovers by the Air Force are a popular feature of the day, especially on the Mediterranean beaches, where families bring folding chairs and barbecues to watch the show.