Metro

Grapevine: Timeless beauty

WHO WOULD imagine that an Israeli beauty contest would excite worldwide attention?

HAVA HERSHKOVITZ
Photo by: Reuters
■ WHO WOULD imagine that an Israeli beauty contest would excite worldwide attention? Admittedly, Israel has some very beautiful women, many of whom travel to Haifa every year to vie for the Miss Israel contest. But this was not a beauty contest for the young and the nubile, even though it, too, was held in Haifa. It was a contest for women of the third age, and certainly not the first in this age group in Israel. What was different about it was that the contestants were all Holocaust survivors, and the 14 finalists from among 65 of the 300 initial applicants from all over the country ranged in age from 74 to 97.

The winner was white-haired, Romanian-born Hava Hershkovitz, 78, who exuded an air of dignity even before the tiara with its heart-shaped centerpiece was placed on her head.

The contest was organized by Shimon Sabag, the founding director of Yad Ezer Le’Haver (Helping Hand to a Friend) which, with the help of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, has created a street of assisted-living apartment complexes in Haifa. There, Holocaust survivors are housed, fed, entertained and assisted with medical expenses.

Though some people found a beauty contest for Holocaust survivors offensive, both Sabag and Hershkovitz said that it was a celebration of life, survival and victory over the Nazis. The finalists were chosen not only for their looks but also on the basis of their personal stories and the contributions they had made to the communities in which they lived.

The event was attended by several hundred people, among them cabinet ministers Moshe Kahlon, who received a special citation in recognition of his role as minister for social affairs; and Yossi Peled, himself a Holocaust survivor. There was also a lavish dinner and loads of entertainment.

The story was reported in publications around the world. Some used reports by news agencies, but others sent their own reporters to write news features that presented a somewhat different and positive side of Israel.

■ OF THE many people who flocked to Tel Aviv on Saturday night, not everyone was participating in social-justice protest demonstrations. Some were there for Iraqi nostalgia. Two years ago Yossi Alfi, who hosts the Storytellers’ Festival in Givatayim every Succot, caused a furor when, as part of a program related to Iraqi stories, he featured acclaimed Iraqi singer Ismail Fadel, who had fought with Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Gulf War. Although the Iraqi ruler was known as a tyrant, he allowed musicians to have artistic freedom.

In an interview that Fadel gave to Yediot Aharonot in 2010, he said that he had been very happy in Baghdad until the point when so much that he cared about was destroyed by American soldiers. Several of his relatives had been killed in the war, and the combined effect of American military destruction and mourning the deaths of his kin made it impossible for him to remain in his beloved city.

So in 2005 he bade farewell to his brothers and sisters who still live there and headed for as distant a place as he could find – Australia. He made his home there but tours abroad extensively. A large part of his repertoire includes compositions by Jewish Iraqi composers Sallah and Daoud al- Kuwaiti, who emigrated from Iraq to Israel but whose music has been perpetuated by various Iraqi singers.

Fadel was such a tremendous hit at the Storytellers’ Festival that Alfi, yielding to popular demand, decided to bring him back, albeit for a single performance, last Saturday at Beit Hahayal in Tel Aviv.

Alfi, who was born in Iraq, was brought to Israel as a child but was raised in accordance with Iraqi culture. His daughter Sari Alfi, a singer who is preparing an album of Iraqi songs, was among the performers at Saturday night’s concert.

Unlike most of their fellow Israelis, those of Iraqi background cannot go on a roots pilgrimage to retrace the steps of their ancestors in one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world because the Iraqi authorities will not grant them permission to enter the country. Even Israelis of Iranian background can return to Iran on a non-Israeli passport that has no Israeli stamps. But for those who came from Iraq, all they can do is preserve their traditions.

Israelis born in Iraq include Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef; former government ministers Shlomo Hillel and Mordechai Ben-Porat, both of whom were actively involved in Operation Ezra and Nehemia, which airlifted more than 100,000 Iraqi Jews from Iraq to Israel in the early 1950s; Yitzhak Mordechai and MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer; writers Sami Michael and Eli Amir; artist and sculptor Yitzhak Yamin; and award-winning actor Sasson Gabay to name but a few. Equally famous Israelis of Iraqi descent include former IDF chiefs of staff Moshe Levy and Dan Halutz; cosmetics queen Pnina Rosenblum; singer Dudu Tassa; and electric car pioneer Shai Agassi.


Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!
   
Jpost.com, the online edition of the Jerusalem Post Newspaper - the most read and best-selling English-language newspaper in Israel. For analysis and opinion from Israel, the Jewish World and the Middle East. Jpost.com offers expert and in-depth reporting from Israel, the Jewish World and the Middle East, including diplomacy and defense, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Arab Spring, the Mideast peace process, politics in Israel, life in Jerusalem, Israel's international affairs, Iran and its nuclear program, Syria and the Syrian civil war, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel's world of business and finance, and Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora.

All rights reserved © The Jerusalem Post 1995 - 2013