Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) approved the fourteen honorees for the annual Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day) torch-lighting ceremony on Wednesday – this year, with the theme of "courageous citizens."
"The uniqueness of courage is that it doesn't distinguish between religion, ethnicity, or gender," Regev stated. In 2015, the ceremony had centered around Israel's most accomplished women. "The one parameter is a person's character – his values, his heart, and his contribution to others."
The 2016 honorees are as follows:
- Herzl Biton, 57, of Bat-Yam. In January 2015, Biton, a bus driver, was seriously injured when he struggled against terrorist Hamza Mohammed Hassan Matrouk who attacked passengers on his #40 bus in Tel Aviv. While the terrorist stabbed commuters with a knife and beat them with a wrench, Biton did his best to stop the attack – driving wildly from side to side and then hitting the brakes to drive Matrouk away from his victims. Biton was stabbed three times in the stomach during the ordeal.
- Gabi Barshishet, 49, resident of Kfar Adumim, volunteer of the Megilot Rescue Unit and expert involved in key rescue missions in Nepal, Haiti, Japan, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Among other accomplishments, he headed the team who located the body of hiker Or Assraf, who was killed in the Nepal earthquakes of May 2015. Barshishet also serves as the head of the medical volunteer unit of Gush Adumim, a medical team including Hatzalah and Magen David Adom (MDA) volunteers. He was among the founders of the Israeli Graduate School for Social Leadership (Ein-Porat College), which brings together young religious and non-observant Jews for the study and advancement of the Israeli-Jewish culture.
- Avi Toybin, in his sixties, a Herzliya resident who runs a well-established printing company in Tel Aviv. In 2009, Toybin jumped into the rough waters of the Yarkon river – risking his life – to save Yasmin Feingold, a champion canoer whose boat capsized. After bringing her to shore and ensuring she received medical help, Toybin walked away from the scene, expecting no personal recognition or honor for his actions. Feingold returned to the competitive sport three years later, after a long rehabilitation period.
- Dr. Inan Fallach, a 48-year-old resident of Akko (Acre), a prominent public activist for women's empowerment. Fallach is a pilot, lawyer, the first Israeli dentist from the Druze population, and recently became a professor for education. Fallach serves as an inspector from the Ministry of Health for dental clinics in the Arab sector in the region. Over the years, she has worked to empower women within the Druze community and in Israeli society in general.
- Nili and Moish Levi, Modi'in residents in their fifties. Dr. Nili Levi is a speech therapist and a lecturer on ethics in academic institutions; and Moish Levy, a lawyer by profession, heads the Gvanim organization, which has spread religious education in Israel. The Levis, who have furthered joint religious-secular education in Israel, educate their three children according to those values. In 2015, the Levis decided to donate a kidney to patients "who need it most," sight unseen; the act brought to light the importance of organ donation in Israel.
- Father Gabriel Nadaf, spiritual leader of the Israeli Aramean Christian movement, leader of the Forum of Christian IDF soldiers, and Chairman of the Christian Empowerment Council. Nadaf, 42, a Kafr Yafia resident, has advocated for a strong connection among Arab Christians with the State of Israel but has been sanctioned by the official Greek Orthodox church over his views. Nadaf's son currently serves in the IDF, and has been threatened and ridiculed for doing so.
- Rona Ramon, a Ramat Gan resident in her 50s, an active supporter of public education and youth advancement in Israel. Ramon is the widow of Col. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut who perished in the Columbia space shuttle disaster, and the mother of Captain Asaf Ramon, who continued his father's footsteps as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and was killed in a training accident. Ramon channeled her energies after both tragedies into social action, founding the Ramon Foundation for "academic excellence, social leadership and exemplary courage."
- Hallel Bareli, 17, Sderot resident, high school student, and counselor in the Ariel youth group. During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Bareli established bomb shelters for Sderot's children and volunteered to help the elderly; out of loyalty to her hometown, she served to maintain a sense of normalcy for the city's residents during the war despite the difficult conditions. Bareli established a volunteer rotation for all of Sderot's neighborhoods, and utilized help from all youth movements – both religious and secular – to maintain calm in the heavily-hit city.
- Rotem Elisha, 18, Ramle resident, a social activist in the fight against sexual harassment and women's rights in Israel. Elisha, herself a rape victim, took her negative experiences and firsthand knowledge of Israel's lack of expertise in sexual assault support and channeled them into bettering the situation. Despite the great difficulty involved and the tendency to stick to the environment, Elisha decided two years ago to reveal her personal story, to encourage sexual assault victims to come forward and raise awareness of the issue; her move encouraged national dialogue on rape and sexual harassment in Israeli society.
- Fainy Soknick, a 33-year-old Jerusalem resident, teacher and educational consultant, founder and director of the NGO "Ba'asher Telchi." Soknick, a haredi mother of three, experienced a difficult divorce; she used her experience to found the organization, which helps haredi women legally, socially, and psychologically through their divorce processes. Soknick faced great personal risk by revealing her story, yet continues to work to bring the issue to the attention of the haredi rabbinical leadership.
- Yaakov Erenfeld, 88, of Tel Aviv, a Holocaust survivor who has integrated into larger society despite being deaf and mute. Erenfeld belongs to the Association of the Deaf and the Deaf Institute for Advancement. He was educated in a boarding school for the deaf Jews in Budapest and at the age of 11 he was deported with his family and employed as a forced laborer alongside the retreating German army. Ehrenfeld's parents were murdered while he was paraded with other Jews from Hungary in the "death march" toward the Mauthausen camp, where he was liberated at the end of the war. He immigrated to Israel with his brother and sister and settled in Tel Aviv; he has worked extensively with Yad Vashem to accomodate hearing-impaired visitors to the center.
- Sergeant Farah Usa Roberto, 21, Tel Mond, soldier in the IDF's 900 Brigade and Colombian immigrant. Roberto, a modest, serious, quiet soldier, thwarted a terror attack at Gush Etzion junction in March 2016. The terrorist, a driver stopped at the Gush Etzion junction checkpoint, began attacking Roberto with a knife during inspection; Roberto thwarted the attack calmly, decisively, and quickly, leaving none injured.
- First Sergeant Allison Berson, Border Policewoman, Afula resident and French immigrant who bravely neutralized a pair of terrorists after they attempted to stab her and a colleague as they guarded Samaria's Tapuach junction in October 2015. Berson's precise shooting saved lives during the attack, among the first during the current terror wave.