You Are So Beautiful

Haifa Home For Holocaust Survivors

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Posted on: 
5 Feb 2016
You Are So Beautiful

Surrounded by thunderous applause and a rain of confetti, the winner of this year’s Beauty Pageant for Holocaust Survivors, Rita Berkowitz is a picture of happiness. Arms open wide, taking the moment in with a big smile. Still vivacious at 83, no one would have guessed that Berkowitz, now declared Queen, once had to hide from the SS soldiers under the bed at the home of her Christian neighbors.

You could say that the Beauty Pageant, hosted by the ICEJ-sponsored Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors, was first created for these type of elated moments. Now in its third iteration, the event gathered large crowds at the Haifa Garden Congress Hotel in November, including other Holocaust Survivors, their families and even the local media.  

A concept of Isabella Greensberg – a psychiatrist devoted to working with Holocaust Survivors in Haifa – this beauty pageant is as polarizing as it is emotional for everyone involved. Deemed controversial by its detractors, the event is in its essence a celebration of the undying nature of the human spirit.

Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Aid Director, shrugs at the opinions on the event’s divisiveness. “This evening is for the survivors. The 13 ladies [who took part in this year’s Pageant] were never spoiled, some of them never even wore a dress! We’re here to celebrate their lives, to redeem their youth. It’s a fun, classy evening.”

The ICEJ Executive Director Dr. Jürgen Bühler, presented at the event with an award for ICEJ for “Acting in accordance with Social Justice”, reiterated the great purpose of this initiative: “There are millions of Christians around the world who want to make a difference today in Israel. When I was watching the Holocaust Survivors dancing tonight, I was reminded of what the prophet Isaiah in chapter 61 said: ‘I came to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning.’ And that’s what we have seen tonight.”

With a glittering crown and a pageant sash across her chest, Rita Berkowitz addressed the audience: “I wish we all come to know peace, and are given the opportunity to quietly live in our country. Never forget even today, never forget the Shoah and what this older generation went through.”

Towards the end of the event, when asked for more comments, Berkowitz adjusts the flower bouquet in her arms and said with a smile: “We should do this every year.”


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