Happy 57th Birthday to Israel!

Independence Day celebrations were held across the country last night and today, beginning with an official ceremony at Mt. Herzl. The theme this year: "Covenant of Life: Bridging Hearts"

, | updated: 23:58

Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, speaking at the Mt. Herzl ceremony last night, spoke of his fears of a civil war and a rupture in the nation. "I’m greatly worried about a rupture," he said, " that might bring calamity upon all of us, one that’s much greater than the planned evacuation of the communities of Gush Katif and northern Samaria... I stand before you this year with very great fear of the raucous sounds of a total turning of [our] backs on our covenant with the Land, of the true intentions of those who have 'shown disdain to the coveted Land,' and of the scorn heaped upon those who love it and are loyal to it. I am fearful of the malicious joy of some at the misfortune of those who have given and are giving their lives for the settlement and redemption of this land. How will we be able to celebrate our 58th Independence Day if, Heaven forbid, this year becomes one of fraternal bloodshed?"

More excerpts of the speech can be read here.

In response to voices calling for the silencing or reducing of Independence Day celebrations this year in light of the plan to destroy the settlement enterprise of Gush Katif and northern Shomron, Rabbi Yaakov Medan of Yeshivat Har Etzion told Arutz-7, "The State is not Omri Sharon, and Independence Day is not just a day of barbecues. We must continue to thank G-d on this day and to recite the Hallel prayer of thanksgiving and praise. This is a day of making an accounting and of thanking G-d for the great miracles He has done for us and continues to do for us."

Rabbi Gabi Kadosh, rabbi of the Gush Katif community of Ganei Tal, also related to this issue in an article he wrote on Katif.net. "We must ask ourselves, to whom does this State belong?' Rabbi Kadosh wrote. He explained that it does not belong to the secular Zionist movement, nor to those who see no value to its establishment, "but rather to the Master of Universe, Who erected it for us so that we could fulfill the destiny and mission of the Nation of Israel on this earth - namely, to be a 'kingdom of priests and a holy nation,' and to fulfill the task of recounting G-d's praise. The establishment of the State is part of the process of the nation's return to Zion... It is a commandment upon all of us. Thank G-d, 57 years ago, G-d showed favor to our nation and allowed us to build the State, with tremendous Divine help. That day, the 5th of the month of Iyar in 5708 (1948), is the day on which the Master of the Universe stopped the situation in which the Jews are dispersed around the world."

At the President's House today, President Katzav received IDF generals from all time, as well as 120 top soldiers. Later in the day, foreign ambassadors came to congratulate the President on Israel's birthday. The annual Bible Quiz for students from Israel and all over the world was held in the Jerusalem Theater. Ben (Chaim) Kandel from St. Louis won this week's Diaspora Bible Quiz, which took place in Sderot. Joshua Gutenberg, 17, from Canada came in second, followed by Tzviya Cohen, 16, of France.

57th Year Statistics: Israel now has 6.9 million residents, 8.5 times more than in 1948... 76% are Jews, and 20% are Arabs... 26,000 new immigrants arrived in the past year, and 149,000 babies were born...