An 18-year-old high school student from Kiryat Shmona was named Israel's "Queen of Beauty" last week in Haifa. Yael Nizri, an aspiring lawyer and future army recruit from the northern border town, was named winner of the 2006 Miss Israel pageant at the conclusion of Channel 2's live broadcast of the event last Wednesday, which was hosted by singer/ dancer Orna Datz for the third consecutive year and featured appearances by Haifa's mayor and Israeli music channel personality Becky Griffin. Clad in a white evening gown, the dark-haired Nizri, the product of a Dutch mother and a Moroccan father, became Israel's 56th Malkat Hayofi (Queen of Beauty). Scheduled for army service following her high school graduation later this year, Nizri earned a car for her victory and will receive Israel's spot at the 2006 Miss Universe pageant, where she'll attempt to become only the second Israeli named the world's most beautiful woman. Broadcast from Haifa's Mercaz Hacongressim, the evening opened with a field of 20 finalists, who stalked the stage in gowns and bathing suits between taped segments that featured pageant-sponsored trips to "symbols of Israel" and Judaism. An early clip recorded a visit to an agricultural kibbutz, where a small group of aspiring beauty queens dressed in overalls and rubber boots before picking oranges, herding goats and milking cows. Other contestants had it easier, with later segments recording trips to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where competitors attempted to make falafel, sell fresh produce and learn traditional Israeli dances. Despite the opportunities provided by these segments, pageant producers did little to help the audience distinguish one contestant from another, with almost no information provided about each woman other than her name. Viewers also received virtually no information about how the judging panel made its decisions, with the 20 contestants narrowed to 10 and then six without explanation from Datz or pageant officials who appeared onstage during the latter half of the show. Commercial-heavy and peppered with mentions of the pageant's sponsors, the show received fleeting boosts of energy from two musical interludes and its opening dance sequence, which highlighted the talents of performers from recent TV hit Dancing with Stars. Harel Moyal, the 2004 winner of reality TV song contest Kochav Nolad (A Star is Born), performed his latest single with signature wholesomeness, while Datz herself contributed a thumping song and belly dance routine. A much hyped performance by model Miri Bohadana and former Miss Israel Ilanit Levy fell flat, however, with both women visibly lip-synching Shlomo Artzi's "At v'Ani" (You and I) and Bohadana in particular appearing to forget she was onstage as the song went on. Three other finalists, Tehila Mor, Anastasia Yantin and Hila Aran, joined Nizri in victory at evening's end, taking lesser prizes before Nizri received her crown. Yantin, 23, won the title of Israel's "Maiden of Beauty," and will compete for the Miss World title in Warsaw in September; Mor, 17 who won the "Queen of Grace" title and will travel to Shanghai to compete in the Miss International contest and Aran, 19, Miss Teen Queen who will represent Israel in the Miss Europe contest. Most winners of national and international beauty contests go on to make careers for themselves as international fashion models, and two former Israeli beauty queens have gone on to become Miss Universe and Miss World. Rina Mor (Messinger), then a soldier in the IDF, was crowned Miss Universe in 1976 and Linor Abargil was crowned Miss World in 1998. Nizri was crowned by last year's queen Elana Ralph who competed for the Miss Universe title in Thailand last year and considering the competition, did very well by scoring tenth place. Ralph told her that the year ahead is going to be the best year of her life.

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