Ilan Ramon’s widow to light Independence Day torch
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Ilan Ramon’s widow to light Independence Day torch

Celebrating ‘civil heroism,’ the May ceremony will feature a deaf Holocaust survivor, Nepal aid worker, IDF soldiers and everyday heroes

Final rehearsal for the Israeli 65th Independence Day Ceremony, with the torches lit in the background, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on April 11, 2013. (photo credit:Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Final rehearsal for the Israeli 65th Independence Day Ceremony, with the torches lit in the background, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on April 11, 2013. (photo credit:Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

The wife of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon will be among those lighting ceremonial torches during this year’s Independence Day celebrations on Mount Herzl.

Rona Ramon was selected by the Ministry of Culture along with 10 others to usher in the festivities for the country’s 68th Independence Day in a ceremony whose theme this year is “civil heroism.”

The torch lighters for 2016:

Rona Ramon is the widow of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who was killed upon return from a 16-day journey in space aboard the American space shuttle Columbia in 2003. People around the world watched in horror as the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entering the earth’s atmosphere on a live TV broadcast. Ramon and all six of his crewmates were killed. Six years later, Rona’s oldest son, Asaf, who had followed in his father’s footsteps to become an Israeli air force fighter pilot, was killed in a training accident.

Herzl Biton, a Tel Aviv bus driver, fought off a Palestinian terrorist during a stabbing attack last January. The 62-year-old Biton wrestled with the 23-year-old attacker while managing to get the doors of the bus open, allowing passengers to escape. Biton, who was critically injured in the attack, then got off the bus and chased the terrorist on foot.

Aid worker Gabi Barsheshit, coordinated and led Israeli humanitarian efforts to Nepal after a deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake ravaged the Asian country last year. Barsheshit lead the Joint Israelife Disaster Response team, which included members from Israeli rescue organizations ZAKA, United Hatzolah and F.I.R.S.T in the earthquake-damaged regions west of Kathmandu, and aided in searches for missing Israeli tourists.

Avi Toibin saved Israel’s canoe champion from drowning in a Tel Aviv river in 2009. Toibin was jogging along the Yarkon River when he saw that Yasmin Feingold had become trapped underwater inside a capsized canoe. Without hesitating, Toibin jumped in the water and saved Feingold’s life. She later made a full recovery and returned to athletics.

Dr. Anan Fala is Israel’s first female dentist from the minority Druze community, and a longtime advocate of women’s rights. She is also a lawyer and a pilot. Fala currently serves as the Ministry of Health’s supervisor for Arab communities and is the director of Acre’s television and radio station.

Modi’in-based couple Nili and Moshe Levy have worked extensively with a project entitled “Gvanim in Education” an initiative to promote Jewish pluralism in Israeli high schools.

Father Gabriel Naddaf is an Israeli Greek Orthodox priest and head of an initiative aimed at integrating Israeli Christian Arabs in the IDF. While facing criticism in the Arab community, his efforts have been welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Defense Ministry, and other top officials.

Sderot high school junior Hillel Bareli is a community activist who volunteered to help local kindergarteners and elderly people find shelters during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza. During the 52-day conflict, thousands of rockets were launched from the Palestnian enclave into Israel, many of them landing in Sderot, which lies near the Gaza border. Since then, Bareli has continued her volunteer work at the city’s center for at-risk youth.

Rotem Eliseva, an 18-year-old women’s rights activist, started a national dialogue about rape and sexual assault by publicly sharing her own story. By openly talking about her experience of rape, the Ramle-area high schooler has encouraged many other victims of sexual assault to come forward.

Jerusalem single mother Fainy Soknick is the founding director of an NGO dedicated to helping ultra-Orthodox women going through a divorce. A mother to three young children, Soknick also advocates for the rights of divorced women from her community among Jewish religious leaders.

Yaakov Ehrenfeld is a deaf and mute Holocaust survivor who has worked extensively with the Association of the Deaf and the Deaf Institute for Advancement. Ehrenfeld also spearheaded a project with Yad Vashem to make the national Holocaust museum accessible to deaf visitors.

IDF soldier Osa Roberto thwarted a terror attack at the Etzion Bloc Junction in the West Bank last month. When a Palestinian attacked Roberto with a knife, the Colombian immigrant to Israel calmly and quickly subdued the attacker without causing any injuries.

Alison Bitton, a Border Police officer, prevented a deadly attack on a fellow officer in the northern West Bank in October. A recent immigrant from France, Bitton noticed two Palestinian youths getting off a scooter at the Tapuah Junction near Nablus with knives drawn, then walking towards Border Police officers who stood at a roadblock. Bitton opened fire on the two, killing one and critically wounding the other, and was hailed by her commanders for thwarting a potentially deadly attack on the officers.

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