14 Israeli civilian heroes to light torches on Independence Day
The Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols has approved 14 torch-lighers for Israel's 68th Independence Day, ranging from a sexual-assault victim-turned-activist to a deaf-mute Holocaust survivor to two immigrant soldiers who saved lives.
Fourteen Israeli civilians honored for their bravery will light the ceremonial torches on Wednesday evening at the opening Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl.
The torch-lighters this year include Rona Ramon, the widow of Ilan Ramon, an IAF pilot who was also the first Israeli astronaut, and the mother of Assaf Ramon, who followed his father's footsteps in becoming an IAF fighter pilot as well, and who was killed in a plane crash.
"I feel a lot of pride," Ramon said upon receiving the news. "I received the news after returning from a hike to the Small Crater on the Israel National Trail, and it was very emotional to look at this beautiful country and receive the news. Everyone is excited for me about this honor."
In addition to Ramon, the other torch-lighters will be Herzl Biton, Gabi Barshishat, Avi Toibin, Dr. Anan Falah, Nili and Moshe Levy, Hillel Bareli, Rotem Elisha, Fainy Sukenik, Yaakov Ehrenfeld, Father Gabriel Naddaf, IDF representative Sgt. Roberto Farah-Usa and Border Police representative Staff Sgt. Alison Berson.
The torch-lighters were chosen in a majority vote by members of the public committee headed by the director of the Culture Minister's Information Center, Moshik Aviv.
Terror attack hero
Herzl Biton, 57, from Bat Yam, has been working as a bus driver in the Dan bus company for the past 30 years. In January 2015, a terrorist boarded the bus Biton was driving.
The terrorist attacked Biton and other passengers with a knife and a screwdriver, but Biton kept on driving even after he was stabbed. Biton swerved the bus from side to side and slammed on the brakes in an attempt to stop the terrorist's advance. Only after the passengers fled the bus did Biton leave the driver's seat, attack the terrorist and mace him with pepper spray.
During the struggle with the terrorist, Biton was stabbed in the back, but he continued to pursue the assailant until he collapsed.
"Biton put his life at risk to save the lives of others and continued to fight until he couldn't carry on. His resourcefulness and courage saved many lives. Now, after a series of operations, he is recovering from his wounds," the committee's decision read.
Search and rescue volunteer
Gabi Barshishat, 49, from Kfar Adumim, is a social activist and a volunteer medic who also donates his time in search and rescue efforts.
Barshishat volunteers as the deputy commander of the rescue unit Megillot in the Dead Sea area and was among the experts who joined Israeli rescue delegations to Nepal, Haiti, Japan, the Philippines and other places.
He headed the team that located the body of Israeli Or Asraf, who went missing after an earthquake in Nepal in 2015.
He was among the founders of the Israeli Graduate School for Social Leadership (the Ein Prat College), which brings together religious and non-religious youth and promotes the study and advancement of the Israeli-Jewish culture.
Saved the future rowing champion
Avi Toibin, in his 60s, from Herzliya, demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness and risked his own life in 2009 to save rower Yasmin Feingold, who was trapped under an overturned boat in the Yarkon River.
He was cycling in the Yarkon Park when he noticed a group of passersby congregating by the river and realized someone was trapped under a boat. Without hesitation, he took off his clothes, went into the river and swam to the boat, managing to extract Feingold and pull her out, bringing her to the riverbank and giving her CPR.
Toibin risked his own life while others were reluctant to help. When the incident was over, he put on his clothes and returned home, and did not expect any recognition or to receive anything in return.
After a long rehabilitation period, Feingold returned to competition, and three years later she became the rowing champion of Israel.
Druze dentist working for female empowerment
Dr. Anan Falah, 48, from Acre, is a prominent public activist on the issue of female empowerment in Israel. She is a civilian pilot, a lawyer, the first female Israeli Druze dentist, and recently, she was made a professor of education.
She serves as a Health Ministry inspector in dental clinics in the Arab sector in northern Israel, and was appointed a director in the Second Authority for Television and Radio and in the Acre Economic Society.
Over the years, she worked to empower women in the Druze community in particular and in Israeli society in general, and paid a personal price as a result.
According to the committee's remarks, "Her work is an unusual example of having the willpower to overcome obstacles. Her work inspires many women from all walks of society and paves the way for them in different areas."
Donating a kidney to 'those who need it most'
Nili and Moshe Levy are a couple in their 50s from Modi'in. Dr. Nili Levy is a speech therapist and a lecturer on ethics in academia. Moshe "Moish" Levy is a lawyer and educator who pioneered the movement to combine secular and religious education in Israel and has been working with the Gvanim Association for Education and Community Involvement, a school pluralism educational project.
In 2015, the couple decided to each donate a kidney to patients they did not know, or, as they defined it, "to those who need it most."
Their extraordinary sacrifice saved two patients and raised awareness of the importance of organ donation in Israel.
The Levy couple has three children, and they lead a shared secular-religious lifestyle in their home.
Integration of minorities into Israeli societyFather Gabriel Naddaf, 42, from Kfar Yafia, is a Greek Orthodox priest. He is one of the leaders of the Aramaic community in Israel and a prominent activist for recruiting Arabic-speaking Christians to the IDF.
Naddaf is working to integrate his community into Israeli society, among other things by serving in the Israeli armed forces and in civil service.
He believes that contributing to society and giving minorities the same rights and responsibilities as the rest of the nation is the key to their integration. He stands by his beliefs despite receiving threats and encountering serious opposition.
Naddaf's son serves in the IDF and has also encountered threats and condemnations.
Naddaf is a central figure in efforts to strengthen the relationship between Jews and Christians in Israel and abroad, giving lectures and sermons to audiences and acting against anti-Semitism. He recently joined the fight against the boycotting of Israel.
Channeling loss into social activity
Rona Ramon, in her 50s from Ramat Gan, is an activist who supports the advancement and education of youth in Israel.
She is the widow of Col. Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut who perished in the Columbia space shuttle crash in 2002, and the mother of Captain Assaf Ramon, who followed in his father's footsteps and became a pilot in the Air Force. Assaf was killed in a training accident.
Ramon has made an exceptional contribution to Israeli society by channeling her family's tragedy into a series of social pursuits.
She founded the Ramon Foundation that aims to provide the younger Israeli generation "with academic excellence, social leadership and groundbreaking courage" and works to advance youth and children throughout the country.
In addition, Ramon, who researched the issue of dealing with loss, gives lectures, workshops and offers individual treatments, while sharing her personal story, which is an inspiration to many.
A youth leader from SderotHillel Bareli, 17, from Sderot, is a student at the Shirat Ulpana (high school for religious girls) in Sderot. She is also a youth leader and counselor in the Ariel youth movement.
Bareli is a notable social activist in Sderot, who greatly aids the city's population both in times of emergency and in peace time.
During Operation Protective Edge, she ran shelters for the city's children and engaged in volunteer work for the elderly.
Out of a sense of loyalty to Sderot, where was born and raised, Bareli sought to bring the city's youth together and encourage them "to take the city into their hands" and work to restore normal life to the residents while the city was under fire from the Gaza Strip.
She created a volunteering timetable for each of the city's neighborhoods and galvanized the youth movements—religious and secular alike—to act while the city was under constant fire and peril.
Hillel inspires the youth in her city and to continues her activities in youth movements and in the municipal youth council.
Sexual assault victim fights for women's rights
Rotem Elisha, 18, from Ramla, is a social activist who fights for women's rights and against sexual harassment.
When she was younger, she was raped and suffered in the aftermath of the severe trauma, experiencing prejudice and ignorance in society on the issue of sexual assault.
Despite the great difficulty involved and the fact sexual assault victims tend to close themselves off to the world, Elisha decided two years ago to share her personal story to encourage assault victims to complain and to raise awareness of the issue.
She is involved in many feminist struggles and serves as an inspiration to many women and teenage girls. Among other things, she set up and manages a Facebook page called "No longer silent, fighting for freedom and equality," which has thousands of followers.
Fighting for women in Haredi society
Fainy Sukenik, 33, from Jerusalem, is a teacher and educational consultant, as well as the founder and director of the NGO Ba’asher Telchi ("Where You Go").
Sukenik, an ultra-Orthodox mother of three, went through a difficult process of divorce and as a result began managing a volunteer group that helps Haredi women who are in a similar situation. Her NGO provides these women with emotional, social and legal support.
She shares her story far and wide, recruited the help of various agencies and faced opposition and threats because of her work.
Nevertheless, Sukenik continues her work in the Haredi society while striving to help ultra-Orthodox women and explan their plight to the ultra-Orthodox rabbinical leadership.
Sukenik acts as a maternal figure, supporting women who come to her NGO for help. Some do so in secret, and Sukenik takes care of all of their needs.
Haredi society has begun to recognize the plight of the women in the sector, and the model of operations she created has been adopted in ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel and around the world.
Deaf Holocaust survivor tells his story
Yaakov Ehrenfeld, 83, from Tel Aviv, is a deaf-mute Holocaust survivor who volunteers with the Association of the Deaf in Israel and the Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel.
He was educated in a boarding school for deaf Jews in Budapest and at the age of 11 was deported with his family from the city and was made to do forced labor alongside the retreating German army.
His parents were murdered while he was marched with other Jews from Hungary to the Mauthausen camp, where he was liberated at the end of the war. He immigrated to Israel with his brother and sister and settled in Tel Aviv.
Ehrenfeld currently works in collaboration with the school for the deaf, and has been telling his story in sign language at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum to the deaf and non-deaf alike.
"Ehrenfeld inspires many and embodies the heroism of the spirit despite his disability. He highlights the moral strength of Israeli society, which integrates people with various disabilities," the committee said.
Immigrant soldier thwarting a terrorist attack
Sgt. Farah Usa Roberto, 21, from Tel Mond, lives with his parents and two brothers. His family immigrated to Israel from Colombia in 2003.
He serves as an infantryman in the Haruv Infantry Battalion in the Kfir Brigade . His virtues as a professional soldier were shown during an attack at Gush Etzion junction. On March 18, 2016 he was securing the area and approached a suspicious vehicle driver at the junction. The driver attacked Roberto with a knife, who acted professionally, calmly and decisively, thwarting the attack quickly and without injuries.
The chief of staff is resonsible for having recommended him to light the torch together with a border policewoman as an expression of the appreciation of the courage of IDF soldiers and the heroism of officers in the Israel Police and Border Police.
Immigrant Border Policewoman neutralizing two attacking terrorists
Border Police Staff Sgt. Alison Berson, an Afula resident, new immigrant and a lone soldier, was born in France and immigrated to Israel alone in 2012.
She completed basic training as a border policewoman two years ago and was assigned to the West Bank. Six months ago, during an operation at the Tapuach Junction, Berson identified two men who dismounted a motorcycle with knives drawn running towards a Border Police officer at the roadblock.
She swiftly and accurately fired at the running terrorists and neutralized them. The policeman they were attacking sustained only minor injuries, thanks to Berson's vigilance, who acted "calmly and bravely in a manner that is a source of pride and with flawless professional judgment," according to the committee.
Her quick response saved the life of a border police officer and the other civilians who were at the scene.