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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nineteen women from every corner of the country competed Tuesday night for the Miss Israel title at the 57th annual beauty pageant at Haifa's Congress Center. As host Galit Gutman emphasized throughout the evening, "Only one [woman] can be queen." By the show's finale, only Rishon Lezion resident Liran Kohaner, 18, remained to accept the crown which proclaimed her "the most beautiful woman in all of Israel."
Opening with a performance of Abba's befitting "The Winner Takes All" by Tzvika Pik, where competitors danced around the scraggly-haired singer, this year's pageant focused on the implications of beauty, confidence, competition and the ambition necessary to become a winner.
Between clips of swimsuit and evening gown modeling on the catwalk, live personal interviews and video montages introduced viewers to the candidates.
Competitor Meital Sadon, 19, a ballerina from Acre, suggested that the inner beauty cannot always be easily defined. "I always do the best that I can and I know," she remarked, saying that she learned from the experiences of her hardworking father, "because of that I am here."
Many candidates also described the four months of preparation for Tuesday's show as the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Emphasis on their common experiences leading up to the pageant, when the women underwent exhausting photo shoots and bonded during a trip to Thailand, helped to explain mixed emotions among the women as competitors were eliminated in each round.
Another woman who shared many of these experiences, but was absent from the stage, was Druse beauty Angelina Fares. Early on in the show, hostess Galit Gutman acknowledged the big story that has kept Miss Israel in the news in recent weeks by calling on Fares to rise and wave from the audience. Fares would have been the first Druse competitor in the pageant's history, but was forced to withdraw from the competition last week due to death threats she faced by members of her community, who regarded her participation as disgraceful.
Performances by Sarit Hadad and Teapacks and a duet by Din Din Aviv and Aya Korem also topped off the evening, which ended with a giant group hug of contestants. Famous faces from the judges' panel, like Rodrigo Gonzales of Dancing with the Stars, and appearances from past Miss Israel winners were also noteworthy. During the first elimination round, Miss Israel 2001, Ilanit Levi, joked that serving as a judge this year was perhaps more difficult than being a competitor. "It's not easy to sit on the other side," she admitted.
Three other titles, "Beautiful Young Woman," "Queen of Grace" and "Young Woman of Israel," won by Meital Sadon, Tal Gonen and Sharon Kenet respectively, were chosen by the judging panel. But this year, viewers were able to select their own favorite via SMS. The people at home chose Uriah Zrihen, 17, from Ashkelon.
Only Liran Kohaner, however, walked off stage with the coveted crown, the ability to compete in the Miss Universe competition, and a brand new Citro n.
When asked earlier in the pageant what she plans tell her children about Miss Israel in 20 years, Kohaner was quick to respond that being in the show was a lifelong aspiration of hers. Her mother also participated in beauty pageants and was always endlessly supportive. "This has been an unforgettable experience," Kohaner said, even before hearing her name read at the end. "It really boosts your self-confidence."