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Israel Celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut with Traditional Picnics and Hikes

Beaches and picnic grounds were packed Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of Israelis enjoyed mild weather and sunny skies on the 41st anniversary of their independence.

The sunbathers and picnickers included many religious Jews who made the most of the secular holiday. The Orthodox do not travel on the Sabbath and religious holidays, which are the only other non-working days for Israelis.

Public transportation operated on a normal schedule, but thousands chose to hike around the country, following routes pioneered by immigrants and soldiers in the early days of statehood.

Independence Day military parades were dropped years ago, but the navy and air force put on a joint air-sea exercise for the benefit of thousands of spectators who lined the Tel Aviv beach.

The Israel Defense Force opened many military camps to the public for the day. They were visited mostly by families with children, creating a Disneyland atmosphere.

Other Independence Day traditions included the World Bible Quiz, won this year by an Israeli youngster, Yaron Yanai, and a reception for the diplomatic corps given by President Chaim Herzog.

Independence Day receptions were also held in Moscow, Warsaw and Budapest, where Israeli diplomatic missions are posted for the first time since 1967.

President Herzog received IDF soldiers and officers who distinguished themselves in service this past year, as well as welcoming newly arrived immigrants at a festive ceremony in Jaffa.

Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, reported that 5,300 immigrants arrived in Israel during the past four months, a 4 percent increase over the same period last year.

He said there has also been a rise in the number of immigrants from the Soviet Union.

At present, an estimated 10,000 immigrants are living at absorption centers all over the country.

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