Text size
Moti Milrod
66th Independence Day celebrations in Tel Aviv, May 5, 2014. Photo by Moti Milrod

Israel has begun to mark its 66th birthday, with the official Independence Day ceremony kicking off the festivities.

The ceremony, which is held every year at the Mount Herzl national cemetery, ushers in the end of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day.

Opening the ceremony, Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein implored Israeli society to fight discrimination.

"We cannot declare our commitment to human rights while excluding young Ethiopians. We can't write laws for an 'equal burden' while employers reject Haredi candidates," Edelstein said. "We must not allow an Israel of have-nots to exist in the shadow of the Israel of the haves. We do not have the privilege to create two states for one people."

The heart of the ceremony is the lighting of 12 beacons, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Every year a dozen Israelis are selected for this honor by a special committee.

This year, for the first time, all the torch-lighters were women — the brainchild of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat. The committee evidently had a hard time narrowing down the list of candidates; the 12 beacons were lit by 14 women:

Adina Bar Shalom, an educator (and daughter of late Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef), will light a torch and on Tuesday receive the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement for her advancement of  higher education among ultra-Orthodox women.

Orna Barbivai, the first woman to achieve the rank of major general, heads the Israel Defense Forces personnel directorate.

Pascale Bercovitch, a French-born Paralympic athlete and motivational speaker, will light a torch with Shahar Peer, Israel’s highest-ranking tennis player ever — No. 11 in 2011.

Geula Cohen, a fighter in prestate undergrounds, Israel Prize winner, former right-wing MK and party founder (and mother of Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi), will light a torch with 17-year-old Gal Yoseph, chairwoman of the National Students Council.

Maxine Fassberg, CEO of Intel Israel, the country’s largest high-tech company.

Carmela Menashe, a veteran military affairs reporter for Army Radio.

Miriam Peretz, an educator and mother of two Israeli army officers who fell in the line of duty.

Tali Peretz-Cohen, director of a center to help victims of sexual assault in the Galilee and Golan.

Kira Radinskya young researcher at the Technion whose work on data mining makes it possible to predict events and patterns.

Hindia Suleiman, the only Arab among the torch-lighters, is founder of a groundbreaking women’s entrepreneurial venture in the Israeli Arab village of Bu’eine-Nujeidat.

Belaynesh Zevadia, an Ethiopian-born immigrant, is Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia.

Miriam Zohar, a theater actress and 1986 Israel Prize winner.

On Tuesday morning, President Shimon Peres will hold a special event at the President's Residence, called "Singing Independence with the President." This year, the event will be dedicated to Israeli singing legend Arik Einstein, who died in November last year. Peres will be joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, and IDF chief Benny Gantz.