Israel Independence Day Torch-lighting Honors Go to 14 ‘Civilian Heroes’

Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and mother of pilot Asaf Ramon, among torch lighters.

Rona Ramon and her late son, Asaf, at a 2003 memorial for Ilan Ramon.
Alon Ron

Soldiers and civilians who foiled terror attacks are among the 14 Israelis chosen to light torches in the official ceremony kicking off Independence Day celebrations on May 11. The traditional event on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl this year will pay tribute to civilian heroism.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, the chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, announced the names on Wednesday. 

Three of the 14 individuals to receive the honor fended off terror attacks over the past year. They are:

Herzl Biton, 57, a Dan bus driver in Bat Yam, who in January 2015 allowed passengers to flee as he struggled with a knife-wielding Palestinian on a No. 40 bus. Biton suffered stab wounds and is still undergoing rehabilitation.

Sgt. Farah Usa Roberto, 21, of Tel Mond, who overcame a Palestinian who attacked him with a knife at the Gush Etzion junction last month.

Staff Sgt. Alison Berson, a Border Police officer from Afula, who shot two Palestinians who tried to stab a fellow soldier at the Tapuah junction in October.

The other torch lighters are:

Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster. Their son Capt. Asaf Ramon, an Israel Air Force pilot, died in a 2009 training accident.

Father Gabriel Naddaf of Kafr Yafia, a leader of the Armenian Christian community who has been criticized for encouraging Christian Arabs to join the IDF.

Avi Toibin of Herzliya, who jumped into the Yarkon River in 2009 to save champion rower Yasmin Feingold after her boat overturned.

Nili and Moish Levi of Modi’in, who each donated a kidney to people they did not know.

Dr. Anan Falah of Acre, a dentist from the Druze community who advocates for the empowerment of Druze women.

Rotem Elisha, 18, of Ramle, an activist against sexual assault. A survivor of rape herself, she decided to tell her story in order to encourage other victims of sexual assault to file complaints with the police.

Fainy Sukenik, 33, of Jerusalem, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who went through a painful divorce and operates an organization that helps other Haredi women going through a similar experience.

Yaakov Ehrenfeld, 83, a Holocaust survivor who cannot speak or hear, he works extensively with Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial, using sign language to accommodate deaf and hearing visitors.

Gabi Barsheshet, 49, of Kfar Adumin, deputy director of the Megilot rescue unit, who has been involved in rescue missions in Israel and abroad.

Hallel Bareli, 17, of Sderot, a youth counselor who has aided local residents extensively in emergency situations.