Jerusalem, Israel - Apr. 28, 2019 - An auditorium hall on Jerusalem, Israel's Har Herzl, was the scene of a press conference led by Culture and Sport Minister MK Miri Regev.  Regev shook hands with the seated honorees as she entered the room, before sitting at the head of the table and speaking of their impressive accomplishments. “We are a small, young country, which is simply a miracle. A real miracle, that has succeeded in reaching achievements in so many fields, military, cyber, culture, sports, agriculture, and health. There is no area in which our country where people do not want to learn from us.”

The people chosen this year, Regev continued, “...are people who set a personal example of doing amazing things, they encompass the Israeli spirit which inspires people to work to change our society for the better.”

Sixteen individuals are to light thirteen torches at the official annual state ceremony on Israeli Independence Day, this year beginning at sunset on May 8, under the theme of the “Israeli Spirit.” The diverse group of Israelis have turned their personal struggles and tragedies into inspirational life stories.  

To light a torch together are Rachelle Fraenkel, Iris Yifrach, and Bat-Galim Shaer, mothers of Naftali Fraenkel z"l, Eyal Yifrach z"l and Gil-Ad Shaer z"l, the boys who were kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in 2014.

Beresheet spacecraft's Moshe Kahn and Kfir Damari, innovators behind the recent SpaceIL moon landing, are to light a torch together, however, Kahn was not in attendance. 

Honorees include Moran Samuel, an medal-winning Paralympic athlete; Dr. Hila Hadas, mental health activist;  singer Yehuda Poliker, director of the Ziv Medical Center Dr. Salman Zarka, a member of the Druze community who served in the IDF and pointed out his son who was in the room wearing an IDF uniform.  

The other torch-lighters are IDF Col. Shai Siman-Tov, who after being seriously wounded came back to the army to serve;  Gil  Shlomo, Sderot scout leader representing Israeli youth; Menashe Zalka,  Ethiopian-Israeli activist and soccer star; Hodaya Oliel, a recent medical school graduate with cerebral palsy; and Marie Nahmias, a Holocaust survivor who became a foster mother to dozens of diverse children with disabilities, grandmother to over 50, and great-grandmother to dozens more children. Each of the honored torch lighters spoke briefly introducing themselves and mentioning modestly some of their accomplishments. Honoree Avi Nesher, an award-winning filmmaker, who lost his son in a car accident last year, said “there is not a single day that I take this country for granted... when my children were born, the most important thing to me was that they live in Israel.”

Jeffrey Finkelstein, the president of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, who is to light a torch representing Diaspora Jewry, was not in attendance.

After the official program Rachelle Fraenkel spoke with BJL:


The torch lighting ceremony is held on Har Herzl, on a giant stage constructed for the occasion. The army band has started rehearsing, the viewing stands are erected, but there is still much work to be done for the popular televised event. With three of the torch lighters in wheelchairs today, the stage will have to be accessible.