Modest Building is Israel’s Independence Hall

The country is 64 years old, an ths low-key Tel Aviv landmark might be due for a makeover

Israel’s Independence Hall is a former private residence where members of the National Council, representatives of the Jewish settlements and the Zionist movement, met in quasi-secret on May 14, 1948, to sign the Scroll of Independence and establish the Jewish State of Israel. This year, the event is celebrated on April 25.

The event makes Tel Aviv, previously modern Israel’s capital, the Philadelphia of the country. In fact, Philly also served as the US capital Philadelphia served as one of the nation’s many capitals during the Revolutionary War, and the city served as the temporary national capital from 1790 to 1800 while Washington, D.C., was being construction. There the resemblance more or less ends.

An unadorned building in central Tel Aviv is Israel's Independence Hall.

Israel’s Independence Hall is located along Rothschild Boulevard (#16 to be precise) in central Tel Aviv. If it didn’t have a Star of David flag out front, most people would pass right by the simple building with the strong horizontal lines that characterize early Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus-derived urban architecture. The building was once the home of Zinna and Meir Dizengoff. He is considered Tel Aviv’s founding father and was its first mayor. He left the house to the city for the display of art, but it means much more in the troubled country’s history.

Today, one part of the Dizengoff House, as it is popularly called, is a Bible museum and another section serves as Museum of Zionism. The hall where the declaration was signed has also been preserved. The building has been kept pretty much as it was 64 years ago, when Israel was created there. There is talk that it might be transformed into more of an independence theme and undergo an upgraded restoration. Meanwhile, when I was on Rothschild Boulevard last winter, it was not even open to view — of at least, my companions and I did not enter.

Despite the headlines of zealots and extreme right-wingers among the Israeli public and in the Israeli government who are harsh, punitive and separatist, the country is more than 90 percent secular, so Independence Day, which comes exactly one day after the Israeli equivalent of Memorial Day, is one part of a treasured two-day holiday. Locals generally celebrate with picnics, many at the grand beaches of Tel Aviv. Military fly-overs and other public displays remind people it is a holiday — much like our Fourth of July but perhaps with somewhat less fanfare.  On another note, I hope that it won’t take another 64 years for the Palestinians to be able to form their own true state and have an Independence Hall of their own too and a reason to celebrate their own freedom from occupation. In fact, with next year marking Israel’s 65th anniversary, wouldn’t it be just the time to cut the Occupied Territories loose and let an independent Palestinian state emerge? At some point, it too will have an anniversary of independence to celebrate.