By Dave Sorter
TEL AVIV — Many cities have places to which people flock simply because something historic happened there.
Thousands of people visit Cape Canaveral in Florida each year to say they were at the place where all the historic U.S. space flights began. Locally, they used to stampede to Southfork Ranch in Murphy because that’s where J.R. Ewing and his family lived in the TV show “Dallas.”
So it is with Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, at 16 Rothschild Blvd., where Israel declared its independence 65 years ago Monday — based on the Hebrew calendar — on 5 Iyar 5708. The secular date was May 14, 1948, but the differences between the Hebrew and Julian calendars come into play, as with all Jewish holidays.
This year’s Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration will actually take place Tuesday because of a rule that states that YomHaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day), which is the day before Yom HaAtzmaut, can’t occur on a Sunday.
Jews and supporters of Israel throughout the world will celebrate Israeli independence — including an event from 4:30-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Aaron Family JCC — but here’s a glimpse at the place it actually happened.
The building at 16 Rothschild Blvd., was originally the home of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, after he and his wife, Zina, won a lottery for the plot of land. After Zina’s death in 1930, Meir decided he wanted to make the building an art museum, and it was renovated. The museum remained there until 1971, and the building was transformed into a history museum.
The Main Hall had been restored to its exact state on 5 Iyar 5708. A portrait of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, hangs at the center of the back wall, flanked by two large Israeli flags. The dais where the signatories sat is directly in front of it.
Just perusing the nameplates on that dais is a walk through Israeli history. David Ben-Gurion, as leader of the Yishuv (the pre-state settlement), sat front and center as would befit the man who would become the State of Israel’s first prime minister. Among the others in attendance were future prime ministers Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir and other future leaders such as Moshe Dyan and Abba Eban.
All the political leaders and rabbis in the soon-to-be independent nation were invited to attend, but several — including some slated to be signatories — were stuck in Jerusalem, which was under siege.
Visitors can sit and listen to a recording of Ben-Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence to the crowd gathered on the day that would become Yom HaAtzmaut. Afterward, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, gathered for the event, played “Hatikvah” as everybody stood. The recording includes the song, and visitors stand as the now-national anthem is performed.
The tape ends with Ben-Gurion’s announcement, in Hebrew, “The State of Israel is established. This meeting is adjourned.”
But that’s not all 16 Rothschild Blvd. has to offer. Paintings and photographs from the original art museum — including photos of the Dizengoffs — are hung on the walls of the lobby and those from 5 Iyar 5708 hang in the main room. Just before entering the main hall, groups can gather in one of two classrooms, where they can see a film about independence and the effects of it.
Of course, 5 Iyar 5703 didn’t just signify the State of Israel’s independence, but freedom for the tens of thousands of Jews trapped in displaced persons camps under the British Mandate, which restricted immigration into Israel. The Declaration of Independence was signed one day before the mandate was to expire, and a wave of people made the aliyah they had wanted to make years before.
Independence Hall is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Israel Standard Time Sundays-Thursdays and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Fridays.