Torch-lighting ceremony is the official ceremony that marks the closure of the Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance day for soldiers and terror victims) and the opening of the Independence Day celebrations in Israel. The Ceremony is held annually at the burial site of Theodor Herzl, the Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, and is officiated by the Speaker of the Knesset. The ceremony is attended by the government ministers, members of the Knesset, the Chief of General Staff, members of the diplomatic staff, IDF veterans and a number of citizens who are accommodated in three pavilions with around 5,000 seats temporarily set up around the compound.
The lighting of 12 torches that symbolize the Twelve Tribes of Israel by people who are seen to have made an outstanding contribution to society is the ceremony’s highlight, alongside music performances, dances, parades and fireworks.
Each year, the ceremony has a different central theme which corresponds to a phase in Israel’s struggle for statehood and survival, as chosen by the Ministerial Committee on Ceremonies and Symbols. The ceremony is directed by the Information Center of the Ministry of Culture and Sport. The commander of the ceremony between 1983 and 2016 was Colonel David Rokni, and since 2017 is Lieutenant Colonel Shimon Deri.
This year the celebrations will be on the subject: “Just because of the wind” Saluting the Israeli spirit. Miri Regev said: ” On the 71st Independence day, the State will salute Israeli citizens, members of all religions and ethnic groups, who express with their personal stories the Israeli spirit.
Those who struggled and managed, against all odds, to become active citizens , made a unique contribution to the society and their action is in broad public agreement. “
This year 13 Torch will be lit. the 13 will be for Diaspora Jewry and will be lit by Jeffrey Finkelstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, the city that was the site of a deadly antisemitic shooting last year.
Few of the others who were chosen to lit the torch:
Dr. Hodaya Oliel, a 27-year-old woman with cerebral palsy, earlier this year graduated from the Technion’s medical school and became a doctor. Oliel was born three months premature and weighed a mere 930 grams (2.0 pounds) at birth, after which she dropped to only 760 grams (1.7 pounds). After undergoing five operations before entering high school, Oliel graduated with top grades and went on to graduate med school in January despite numerous challenges. She is now starting her residency at Kaplan hospital.
In notes explaining the choice, Regev writes that Oliel “is a symbol for rising above every obstacle and represents the strive to integrate people with disability into society.”
Dr. Salman Zarka an Israeli Druze, is the Director of Ziv Medical Center in Safed. He served in the IDF more that 25 years. He served as doctor in an Armored Battalion of the 401st Brigade and as the brigade’s medical officer. He served as a doctor in the 36th Division (Ga’ash Formation) and as Head of the military health branch at the Chief Medical Officer headquarters. At 2008 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and was appointed as Medical Commander of the Northern Command. In 2013 he was appointed as the Commander of the IDF Center for Medical Services and the Head of Health Department in the Medical Corps. In March 2013 he founded and commanded the operation of a field hospital on the Israel-Syria border for the treatment of wounded victims of the Syrian Civil War. He is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health in the School of Public Health of Haifa University and senior lecturer in the Department of Military Medicine in the military doctors top track of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Regev stated that Zarka “expresses the spirit of the IDF and the affirmation of Israeli conscience in the dedicated care provided to all those in need of medical assistance, including those well beyond the borders of Israel.”
“Dr. Zarka’s spirit of dedication upholds the values of the Declaration of Independence. Dr. Zarka expresses the brotherly alliance between us and the Druze community. Dr. Zarka, I am proud of you for your humanitarian spirit, which represents the good and the fair in our society, for the benefit of the public and the individual in the periphery and beyond borders,” she added.
Gil Shlomo, an eleven grade student who lives in Sderot and one of the main activists in the youth march from Gaza perimeter to Jerusalem. The committee noted that Gili, who was born in Kfar Aza and spent her childhood and youth under the constant threat of firing from the Gaza Strip that left her mark, is an outstanding student who also devoted her time to social action.
When she was in fourth grade, she joined the Scouts and since then has become a central activist in the movement, which works to strengthen the resilience of children and youth in the periphery. The march she organized with her friends was to increase awareness of the hardship of life in the area. The committee noted that she will light the torch in honor of residents of the Gaza vicinity and in honor of the Hebrew Scout Movement, the largest youth movement in Israel, marking 100 years of its founding.
Col. Shai Siman-Tov was the deputy commander of the Golani’s 12th battalion during the IDF’s last war in the Gaza Strip and was critically injured during an infamous battle in Shejaia with Hamas, when a tunnel collapsed. A concrete beam hit his helmet and broke five vertebrae. He was airlifted in critical condition to Soroka-University Medical Center and has since been wheelchair-bound. He returned to the military in 2015 and was promoted in rank and currently serves as a team leader at the IDF’s Tactical Command College.
Regev said that Siman-Tov “symbolizes the determination of the spirit and the strength of the soul to overcome the body’s ailments. The process of his recovery from his severe injury during Operation Protective Edge and his return to serve as an IDF commander is a story of the heroism of the spirit and the growing desire to overcome all obstacles… Col. Siman-Tov, I’m proud of you and salute you.”
Captain of the Hapoel Hadera soccer club, Menashe Zalka.
He was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Israel when he was one year old. He started playing soccer in Hapoel Hadera’s children’s group at the age of seven and was considered a prominent talent for his age. At the age of 18, Zalka enlisted in the IDF for a combat service for a paratrooper raider. As a result, he stopped playing soccer for three years in which he served in the IDF.
Zalka is often absent from soccer games in order to serve in reserve duty in IDF , which is unusual for a professional footballer, especially the senior league in Israel. In addition, Zalka lectures in schools for children and adolescents of Ethiopian origin and in general about the importance of service in the IDF.
Other who will lit the torch are: Paralympian Moran Samuel, mental health activist Dr. Hila Hadas, singer Yehuda Poliker, filmmaker Avi Nesher, ; and Marie Nahmias, a Holocaust survivor who became a foster mother to dozens of handicapped children. Three women – Iris Yifrach, Bat-Galim Shaer and Rachelle Fraenkel, the mothers of three teenaged boys killed by terrorists in 2014 – will light a torch together. And Morris Kahn and Kfir Damari, two of the central figures behind the recent SpaceIL attempt to land on the moon, will also light one as a team.