Seventeen-year-old Gal Yosef, the youngest torch-lighter selected for this year's Independence Day ceremony, thought she was the victim of a prank when she was first invited to participate in the esteemed ceremony. When Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat called to congratulate Yosef, Head of the National Student Council and an 11th-grader at the Ahad Ha’am High School in Petah Tikva, it sunk in that the invitation was real, and an hour of shaking and crying out of sheer excitement ensued.
Yosef has evolved from a shy girl who rarely spoke, stuttered and blushed frequently, to a social activist who represents Israeli youth. "I am not there [at the ceremony] as Gal, but as a representative of Israel's youth - we stand together and light the torch and put ourselves on the map," she tells The Jerusalem Post
. "We have an active and caring youth."
Yosef represents youth in the Knesset as well as in a multitude of other official and informal capacities; she led student protests against teachers' sanctions, and battles against drug and alcohol use among teens. The Petah Tikva resident says she originally got involved with the school council with the agenda of having uniform logos removed, but her priorities quickly changed. She went from there to the city council, then the district council and eventually the national one. She felt like people were listening to her, and that she actually had the power to change things, not just sit at home and complain. She believes the most meaningful thing she does is helping youth solve their problems, presumably providing valuable insight into her counterparts' issues that an adult would lack.
Yosef recently returned from a Holocaust-education school trip to Poland, an experience that had a tremendous impact on her, making this year's Independence Day particularly significant to her. "I think this feeling of holding the Israeli flag and singing HaTikva now feels much more meaningful to me because I understand that it's not taken for granted that we have this nation that is ours - democratic and Jewish. We have to preserve it and continue feeling secure in it. If we don't look after it, then it won't exist."
She has high hopes for her generation: that they will grow to be active, caring adults who will constantly strive to improve their environment, and ensure that their children will grow up in a safe country. Her own personal dream is to serve as a fighter pilot in the IDF.