Shoshi and I arrived back in Israel just in time for Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. One highlight was watching the national ceremony broadcast live from Har Herzl. Each year, about 12 extraordinary Israelis light a torch each, representing both themselves and some aspect of a group within Israeli society, all under the theme “Heritage of Innovation.” In the highly stylized ceremony, the torch lighters introduce themselves, mention what their participation honors in Israeli society, and end with the exuberant declaration–“ultiferet medinat Yisrael- and to the glory of the State of Israel”–before lighting their torch.
Many of the stories and backgrounds of the torch lighters are inspiring and brought us to tears. Here, I’ll share just a few that stood out to me.
• Shlomo Artzi, one of the most successful Israeli singers of all time, representing the children of Holocaust survivors who prospered in Israel.
• Racheli Ganot, an ultra-Orthodox woman who works to integrate other ultra-Orthodox women into Israel’s hi-tech industry.
• Noam Gershoni, a fighter pilot gravely injured in the Second Lebanon War who rehabilitated himself and won a gold medal in tennis at the 2012 London Paralympics.
• Sheikh Mawafak Tarif is the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel. In his moving presentation, he spoke of the shared destiny of the Druze and Jewish peoples, their covenant of mutual respect and understanding, his prayer for protection of the Druze community suffering in Syria and for coexistence and peace among all the nations of the Middle East.
• Aviezri Fraenkel, a pioneering Israeli computer engineer and one of the first to digitize classical Jewish texts. He is also the grandfather of Naftali Fraenkel, one of three Israeli teens who were kidnapped and killed by Hamas in 2014.
• Avshalom Kor, a linguist and radio personality who promotes the proper use of Hebrew in the public, represented the revival of Hebrew and the dedication of its many proponents. In one of the few off-script moments of the ceremony, Kor planted a kiss on the cheek of the young soldier who accompanied him, after mentioning his satisfaction at seeing young people enjoy speaking Hebrew.
These extraordinary individuals represent some of the best of Israel’s spirit, and give hope for an even brighter future.