Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Memorial Day Observances Precede Israel’s Celebration of Independence

May 2, 1968
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israel today observed Memorial Day, an occasion of national mourning for the nation’s war dead. The observance was officially opened when President Zalman Shazar kindled a memorial candle in his home last night. Today he lit a memorial flame in Bar Kochba Square in Jerusalem in the presence of an honor guard of veterans of Haganah, the Irgun and the Sternists, the para-military organizations of pre-statehood days.

But Israel had, in effect, been observing memorial day throughout the entire week preceding tomorrow’s festive Independence Day celebrations. Moments of silence and prayer were observed in the principal cities several day 3 ago as well as today. The memorials embraced not only Israel’s fallen soldiers but the six million Jews who perished under the Nazis in Europe during World War II and, particularly the Warsaw Ghetto fighters whose uprising against German military might 25 years ago was the first instance of organized Jewish resistance to the campaign of extermination.

Today, as in memorial observances earlier this week, movie houses, cafes and restaurants were closed. Street lights were dimmed last night and the streets partially deserted. Thousands of Israelis attended public memorial meetings here, in Jerusalem, Haifa, Petach Tikvah, Ramat Gan and in scores of other towns and settlements. Today, primary and secondary school students were assembled in auditoriums for remembrance services. When they ended, each youngster was given a memorial candle to take home. Mayor Namir, of Tel Aviv, kindled a memorial torch outside the Great Synagogue. A special Air Force memorial service was held in the bills outside of Jerusalem, near the spot where the first Israeli pilot lost his life in a crash during the 1948 war for independence. Other services were conducted at military cemeteries, attended by military leaders and cabinet ministers.


Israel’s 20th Independence Day was ushered in this evening by the prolonged wail of sirens and the switching on of thousands of colored lights in cities, towns and settlements which, up to that moment, had been observing a national day of mourning in honor of Israel’s war dead. With the sound of the sirens, flags that had flown at half mast were raised. Automobile horns sounded and tens of thousands of persons broke into spontaneous cheering. There was literally dancing in the streets, halting traffic in some of the main thoroughfares of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities. Obviously, this Independence Day, occurring almost a year after Israel’s greatest military victory yet, at a time of grave tension and anxiety for the future, has aroused greater emotions than any previous “Yom Haatzmaut.”

Official ceremonies opening Independence Day were held on Mt. Herzl this evening. Speaker of the Knesset (Parliament) Kaddish Luz presided. Impromptu outdoor festivities were held all over town, encouraged by mild weather. Scores of people brought folding chairs into the streets, many of them apparently with the intent of camping out during the night to be assured of a good spot to view tomorrow’s Independence Day parade.

The foreign diplomatic corps assembled in full strength at President Zalman Shazar’s home tonight to convey their good wishes on the occasion of Israel’s 20th anniversary celebrations. Present were many diplomats whose countries do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, among them Ambassador Walworth Barbour of the United States and Ambassador Reginald M, Hadow of Great Britain. An official statement of congratulations was read by Mrs. Francesca Fernandez Hall, of Guatemala, acting dean of the diplomatic corps. President Shazar responded with a statement of thanks.

Thousands of Israelis from all parts of the country and tourists from abroad continued to pour into Jerusalem for the Independence Day parade tomorrow which will be viewed by an anticipated half million people. Although today was a day of mourning for Israel’s war dead, tomorrow will be a festive occasion and the city looks the part. Decorative lanterns of silver and gold have been strung along the streets. Giant murals depicting scenes from Israel’s history are already hanging from the walls of buildings in the main squares. Many streets in the city have been closed to traffic. The principal highways leading to and from Jerusalem will become one-way tomorrow in order to speed traffic. In the morning, they will carry vehicles entering the city only. In late afternoon, when the festivities are over, the direction will be reversed for the outward rush.

(The London Daily Telegraph reported from Jerusalem today that there was considerable nervousness and, in some cases, panic among Arabs and Jews in the Old City over possible terrorist strikes at the parade tomorrow. The Washington Evening Star reported from Beirut that a “warlike mood” had developed in the Arab states and that “it is fairly clear that the rumble of tanks in Jerusalem will shatter whatever remained of the fragile hopes for a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Arabs.”)

Recommended from JTA