Yom haatzmaut | Israel salutes top-achieving women at 66th birthday fest

How is the Jewish state’s 66th birthday celebration different from all other years’ celebrations? Special plans are afoot to recognize the achievements of Israeli women.

Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai photo/wikimedia commons

On May 5, the theme of the ceremony kicking off the back-to-back Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day events on Mount Herzl is “The Era of Women — Achievements and Chal-lenges.” This year the Independence Day torches that mark the official state ceremony will be lit exclusively by women.

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat introduced the government’s yearlong focus on the achievements and challenges of contemporary Israeli women in science, culture, economy, defense, women’s rights, education, business, high-tech, the environment and social activism.

“The time has come for the state and society to put women at the center and give them the national stage,” Livnat said in a statement.

Though all Israeli women are included in the government’s Independence Day salute, 14 notable women were singled out for special recognition as ceremonial torchbearers:

Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate and the Israeli army’s highest-ranking woman;

Adina Bar-Shalom, recently tapped for the Israel Prize for her “pioneering work to bridge societal rifts and socio-economic gaps and to promote an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle that includes social openness and higher education”;

Actress Miriam Zohar, who was awarded the Israel Prize in 1986;

Kira Radinsky, for her pioneering work in the field of web dynamics at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology;

Belaynesh Zevadia, the Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia;

Carmela Menashe, military affairs reporter for Army Radio;

Hindia Suleiman, who founded an initiative to empower the women of Bu’eina-Nujeidat, an Israeli Arab village ;

Tali Peretz-Cohen, whose rape crisis center comes to the aid of victims of sexual assault in the Galilee and the Golan;

Maxine Fassberg, CEO of Intel Israel and a leader of Israel’s burgeoning high-tech industry;

 Miriam Peretz, whose two sons were Israeli army officers killed in the line of duty in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon;

Shahar Pe’er, a teenage Israeli tennis star currently ranked 11th in the world, who is lighting a torch with Paralympics handcyclist Pascale Noa Bercovitch;

Geula Cohen, a former member of the Knesset, who will light a torch together with Gal Yoseph, chairwoman of Israel’s National Students Council;

A special committee chose the 14 torchbearers, selecting women of great accomplishment from across Israel’s diverse population. Livnat called the group  “a unique mosaic of Israeli society.” And that they are. But other Israeli women have their own ideas of who should have made the list.

Israeli pop star Rita (top); Shahar Pe’er competes at the Citi Open in July 2011. photo/wikimedia commons-keith allison

Among them:

Karnit Flug, current governor of the Bank of Israel, the country’s central bank, was “nominated” by Chana Port of Beit Shemesh;

Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick was cited by Ra’anana’s Etta Korenman for outspoken political analysis that shakes Israelis out of their complacency;

Supermodel Bar Refaeli was named by Sofie Rousseau of Kfar Saba as a stalwart defender of Israel wherever her international career takes her;

Bestselling Iranian-born Israeli pop singer Rita, who is “talented, charismatic, and creative,” was nominated by Shelly Margalit, who lives on a kibbutz near Petah Tikva.

Gabie Sykora of Ra’anana believes that every wife and mother of every soldier should be nominated. She currently has a son and a daughter in the Israel Defense Forces.

Behind nearly every soldier, “there’s a mom or wife doing their horrendously smelling laundry, getting food ready to stuff them with or send back with them, and trying her darndest not to worry and to keep smiling.”