Israel crowns 'Miss Holocaust Survivor'
Published June 29, 2012
HAIFA, Israel – Grinning and waving, 14 women who survived the horrors of World War II paraded Thursday in an unusual pageant, vying for the honor of being crowned Israel's first "Miss Holocaust Survivor."Bee's Note:
Billed by organizers as a celebration of life, the event also stirred controversy. In a country where millions have been touched by the Holocaust, many argued that judging aging women who had suffered so much on physical appearance was inappropriate, and even offensive.
"It sounds totally macabre to me," said Colette Avital, chairwoman of Israel's leading Holocaust survivors' umbrella group. "I am in favor of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading (survivors) with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful."
Pageant organizer Shimon Sabag rejected the criticism, saying the winners were chosen based on their personal stories of survival and rebuilding their lives after the war, and physical beauty was only a tiny part of the competition.
"They feel good together. They are having a good time and laughing in the rehearsals," said Sabag, director of Yad Ezer L'Haver, or Helping Hand, which assists needy Holocaust survivors and organized the pageant.
"The fact that so many wanted to participate proves that it's a good idea."
Nearly 300 women from across Israel registered for the competition and contestants were whittled down to the 14 finalists who appeared Thursday.
The contest, part of Helping Hand's annual "cultural" night, included a lavish dinner and music at a Haifa reception hall. Some 600 people attended, including two Cabinet ministers, Moshe Kahlon and Yossi Peled, himself a Holocaust survivor.
The women, ranging in age from 74 to 97, clearly enjoyed themselves. Wearing black dresses, earrings and necklaces, and sporting blue-and-white numbered sashes, they grinned and waved as they were introduced to the adoring audience. Music played as the contestants walked along a red carpet, introduced themselves and described their memories of World War II.
"I have the privilege to show the world that Hitler wanted to exterminate us and we are alive. We are also enjoying life. Thank God it's that way," said Esther Libber, a 74-year-old runner-up who fled her home in Poland as a child, hid in a forest and was rescued by a Polish woman. She said she lost her entire immediate family.
A four-judge panel consisting of three former beauty queens and a geriatric psychiatrist who specializes in treating Holocaust survivors chose the winner. Hava Hershkovitz, a soon-to-be 79-year-old, was banished from her home in Romania in 1941 and sent to a detention camp in the Soviet Union for three years. Today, she lives in an assisted living home run by Helping Hand.
"This place is full of survivors. It puts us at the center of attention so people will care. It's not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest, but we're all doing it to show that we're still here," the silver-haired Hershkovitz said.
Wearing a glittering tiara, she was joined by her granddaughter, Keren Hazan. "I'm very proud of her because she's the most beautiful woman in the room tonight," Hazan said.
In addition to the contestants' accounts of surviving Nazi ghettos and concentration camps, their later contributions to their communities were also considered, Sabag said. Physical appearance was maybe "10 percent" of the criteria, he said, though a cosmetics company was recruited to help the women dress up for the occasion.
"We always tell them to dress well and look good. To think positive and to take care of themselves," Sabag said. "Always look at life with a smile and continue to live."
The thought that physical appearance could even remotely be a factor rubbed some the wrong way. Avital, of the Holocaust survivors' umbrella group, criticized the cosmetics company, saying it was using Holocaust survivors in a cheap marketing stunt to promote their products.
"Why use a beauty contest to show that these people survived and that they're brave?" wondered Lili Haber, a daughter of Holocaust survivors who heads an Israeli organization that assists survivors from Poland. "I think it's awful. I think it's something a decent person shouldn't even think about."
The Holocaust, in which Nazi Germany oversaw the systematic slaughter of 6 million European Jews, plays a unique role in Israeli society. The country gained independence in the wake of the Holocaust, serving as a refuge for hundreds of thousands of people who survived the genocide.
Nearly 200,000 aging survivors live in Israel today, and the country's annual Holocaust Day is one of the most solemn occasions on the calendar. Restaurants and cinemas close, and the country comes to a standstill as sirens wail for two minutes. Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, frequently make references to the Holocaust when discussing the threat they believe a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the Jewish state.
Thursday's contest was among the many unconventional beauty pageants that have sprouted up over the years. The war-torn countries of Angola and Cambodia have held "Miss Landmine" contests for survivors of land mine explosions, Star Trek fans enjoy the "Miss Klingon Empire" contest in Atlanta, and plus-sized women in Thailand compete for the honor of "Miss Jumbo Queen." There are also a senior citizens' pageants in the U.S.
Gal Mor, editor of the popular Israeli blog "Holes in the Net," said Thursday's pageant was well-intentioned but misguided.
"Why should a decayed, competitive institution that emphasizes women's appearance be used as inspiration, instead of allowing them to tell their story without gimmicks?" he wrote. "This is one step short of 'Survivor-Holocaust' or 'Big Brother Auschwitz.' It leaves a bad taste. Holocaust survivors should be above all this."Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/06/29/israel-crowns-miss-holocaust-survivor/?test=latestnews#ixzz1zJ6Kjugj
When I first read the title to this article, my first thought was "You've got to be kidding me!" Why?
Everything surrounding memories of the Holocaust are deeply serious and solemn occasions. However, after reading this report I understand what a remarkable testimony the survivors give, through their memories and stories of survival and while they may not have said it, their smiles and joy today is another way to tell the world "Never Forget".
Never forget how an evil ideology spread across nations, led by a sick-minded, wicked man who actually did not have to do much to convince millions throughout Europe to use the Jews as scapegoats for all the ills in this old world. I have read many books on the Holocaust and what sticks in my mind most is that while Hitler stirred up the people into a frenzy of hatred, the hatred had to be in the hearts of the people to be so foolishly convinced that the Jews were responsible for everyone else's problems.
"Never Forget" has a sound of hollowness today. I think of the history of WWII and then, listen to that same hatred today ...... apparently, many have forgotten.
Today, like yesteryear, the Jews are continually blamed for a lack of peace in the Middle East. Leaders from around the world think it is their obligation to make demands of the Israelis as to where they can build their homes in their own land - the Land of Israel is the only Jewish nation in this world. Even in the West, we have "leaders" who refuse to accept Jerusalem as Israel's capital city - the City of King David. Has any other nation in the world had a say in what a nation determines to be their capital city?!
Israel has sought peace since the Jews first returned to their own land. She has signed many a peace treaty, offered an olive branch to all her enemies, given up land for peace and yet, the missiles and bombs are still pointed towards her citizens, from neighboring countries along her borders. She is surrounded by enemies who refuse to accept her right to exist. Israel has given up much in the past 60 plus years, but she cannot give up her soul. If the truth be told, for all her contributions to this world, the world turns its back on the one nation, the one democracy in the Middle East who must endure the terrorist acts of evil men/leaders on an on-gong basis. (Please not America's flag burning alongside Israel's - in Gaza, by Palestinian Hamas terrorists - the same terrorists the U.S. continues to support with MILLIONS of DOLLARS in aid.)
Is it too much for this world to remember and "never forget"?
The ladies involved in this contest have demonstrated to the world that they were able to rebuild their lives - while SIX MILLION Jews died under the hands of a propaganda machine, led by wickedness, greed, hatefulness, and pumped up crowds that were willing to accept a lie.
I can only suggest that the next time crowds gather, listen to their speeches. What are they saying? Does it sound reasonable to you? Why not do this when our own politicians speak - one tiny seed of hatred towards anyone, by a "leader" of a nation, can blossom into division among its people and lead, once again, into another dark day in history. While it is true that the economy is the major issue of most Americans today, if we do not also pay attention to our country's foreign policies .... the economy will be the least of our priorities. In the last 4 years, this administration has lost the respect of our allies, while it seeks to honor America's enemies. Intentional "leaks" from this administration that whispers in the ears of our enemies is not the way to build up the United States of America. ......... Just saying ...........