Thousands celebrated Independence Day with the Orthodox Union (OU Israel) at the First Station in Jerusalem. The celebration commemorates 71 years of the State of Israel and forty years of Orthodox Union presence and contribution in Israel.

Thousands packed the First Station in Yerushalayim Wednesday evening for a special prayer and celebration organized by OU Israel. Most participants were recent immigrants from North America, with many saying it was their first time celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel.

Besides OU Israel’s Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman, other prominent rabbinic leaders present included Nefesh B’Nefesh Founder and CEO Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Ohr Torah Stone President and Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Former Knesset member Rabbi Dov Lipman, former Rabbinical Council of America President and OU Israel Faculty Member Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, Jerusalem Council member Arieh King who holds the community centers portfolio, and many others.

Prayer was lead by performer and prayer leader Rabbi Shlomo Katz, with a crowd of thousands joining in song, dance, and gratitude for the State of Israel.

“As one who celebrated Yom haAtzmaut for many years in America, there simply is no comparison to the utter joy and gratitude to celebrate here in Yerushalayim,” said David, a recent oleh from New Jersey. He added, “There's so much joy and energy felt here, and deep connection to Israel and the Jewish People. I'm so overwhelmingly grateful to have merited to come to live my life in the one and only Jewish State.”

Simon, a recent oleh from Montreal, said, “The decision to come on aliya was one of the most complicated decisions of my life. I lived in a wonderful community, I had a very successful career, yet still it was clear to me that I needed to live my life here in Israel. This is my home, here with my people. Some of my family remains in Canada and every once in a while we go to visit them, but I'm a Jew, this is my State, and I pray that the rest of my family will one day soon join us here.”

OU Israel CEO Rabbi Avi Berman commented, “It's so incredible to celebrate this seventy-first Yom HaAtzmaut together with thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters here in Yerushalayim. New Olim together alongside native Israelis, all gathered to thank Hashem for the miracle that is our incredible State of Israel. We have the greatest country in the entire world - with a sophisticated military, a stable economy, burgeoning infrastructure, and the most incredible people in the entire world.

"It's so moving each and every year on Yom HaAtzmaut when we gather to thank and praise Hashem. For the past forty years the OU has merited to serve as a source of inspiration and support for tens of thousands of new Olim, for youth, for individuals with special needs, and all aspects of Israeli society. My wish for all of us, is that Medinat Yisrael should continue to blossom and flourish.”