At 8:00 PM, the state flag was returned to full-mast and the traditional torch lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl commenced. The event this year honors the civic courage of Israeli civilians. Among this year’s torch lighters: Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, and Herzl Bitton, who heroically fought off a terrorist on a bus.

Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

Israel celebrates 68 years: Tonight (Wednesday), the traditional torch lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl began at 8:00 PM, with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in attendance.

At 8:00 PM, the state flag returned to full-mast, which symbolizes the beginning of the Independence Day celebrations. This year’s main event honors citizens who display or demonstrated civic courage. The Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols selected 14 citizens to be this year’s torch lighters. “The uniqueness of civic courage does not distinguish between religion, race or gender. It only inspects the soul of a person, his values, bravery and how he assists others,” said the head of the committee, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a broadcasted message: “This is a euphoric moment, I’m very excited with all of you, with the torch lighters.”

Rona Ramon

Rona Ramon Photo Credit: Flash 90/Channel 2 News

Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and mother of the late Assaf Ramon, was selected to be a torch lighter this year. Ramon is very active in supporting public education and promoting the Israeli youth.

Another one of this year’s torch lighters is Herzl Bitton, the Israeli bus driver who was stabbed in a terror attack but continued to fight off the terrorist. Also, Gabi Barshisht, who led the search and rescue team that discovered the body of Israeli Or Asraf after the earthquake in Nepal, was selected as a torch lighter.

Israeli Greek-Orthodox priest Gabriel Naddaf, who openly supports and encourages Arabic speaking Christians to enlist in the IDF, was also given the honor of a torch lighter this year. Naddaf was in the center of a recent Channel 2 News investigative report.