For 66th birthday, Israel fetes the year of the woman

Click photo to download. Caption: Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er competes at the Citi Open in July 2011. Pe’er is one of 14 women being recognized by the Israeli government as part of the country's Independence Day celebrations this May. Credit: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons.

By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org

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.

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 Challenges.” Independence Day torches, featured annually at the official state ceremony, will be lit exclusively by women at this year’s event.

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat introduced the government’s yearlong focus on the achievements and challenges of today’s Israeli woman, in recognition of those women who have made significant contributions to both the State and to Israeli society as a whole in the arenas of science, culture, economy, defense, women’s rights, education, business, hi-tech, the environment, and social activism.

Click photo to download. Caption: Israeli soldiers display the shape of the Star of David during Israel's Memorial Day/ Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl on April 23, 2007. For this year's state ceremony, Independence Day torches will be lit exclusively by women. Credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90.

“The time has come that the state and society will 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 have been singled out for special recognition as ceremonial torchbearers:

  • Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, who, as head of the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate, is the Israeli army’s highest-ranking woman.
  • Adina Bar-Shalom, who was recently tapped for the Israel Prize for her “pioneering work to bridge societal rifts and socioeconomic gaps and to promote an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle that includes social openness and higher education.” 
  • Actress Miriam Zohar, who also received 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 hi-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 teenaged 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.

The 14 torchbearers were selected by the members of a special committee charged to select women of great accomplishment from across Israel’s diverse population, what Livnat referred to as representing “a unique mosaic of Israeli society.” And that they did. But other Israeli women interviewed by JNS.org have their own ideas of who should have made the list. 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, whose outspoken political analysis shakes Israelis out of their complacency, said Raanana’s Etta Korenman.
  • Supermodel Bar Refaeli, who, said Sofie Rousseau of Kfar Saba, is a stalwart defender of Israel wherever her international career takes her.
  • Rabbanit Chana Henkin, educator and innovator of the Yoetzet Halacha program, which trains and empowers women to give advice on matters of family and women’s health, suggested Tzilia Sacharow of Jerusalem.
  • Bestselling Iranian-born Israeli pop singer Rita, who is “talented, charismatic, and creative,” according to Shelly Margalit, who lives on a kibbutz near Petach Tikva.

Yet 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 holy chayal/chayelet (male and female soldier),” she told JNS.org, “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.”

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Posted on April 2, 2014 and filed under Israel Independence Day, Special Sections.