Holocaust-survivor beauty pageant crowns new winner, 86

These bodacious bubbes are beauty pageant ready.

An 86-year-old great-grandmother who’s seen the ugliest of humanity during the Holocaust is now an officially minted beauty-contest winner.

Armed with her fiery red hair, gold lamé ensemble, pearl statement necklace and thorough rouge lipstick, Romanian-born Selina Steinfeld — who survived the horrors of the Nazis as a young girl — was just crowned “Miss Holocaust Survivor” in Israel on Tuesday.

The pageant, running mostly yearly since 2009 by Yad Ezer L’Haver or “Helping Hand,” a local foundation that provides sets to Holocaust survivors, is meant to honor and recognize living Holocaust survivors, now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, who were robbed of any normal childhood when their lives were shockingly upended in Europe.

With 400 entrants whittled down to 10 finalists, it was the first live pageant since 2018. Local celebrities pulled double duty as judges and pageant entertainment as family and friends kvelled over their bubbes’ star turns, all dolled up with gratis makeup, hair and styling help.

Romanian-born Selina Steinfeld, 86, was crowned “Miss Holocaust Survivor” in Israel this week.
Contestants Selina Steinfeld, Chaya Kleinman, Chedva Raver and Yehudit Shabtai prepare to go onstage.

Founder Shimon Sabag acknowledged the seemingly jarring juxtaposition of parading elderly Holocaust survivors in a pageant but soon saw the beauty in it, according to the Daily Beast.

“It seemed strange, women in their 80s and 90s, but I came to realize that they could do it no less than a girl of 18,” said Sabag. “It is not a competition of outward beauty, but one in which each competitor says, ‘I was in Lodz, I managed to survive and raise a family, I volunteer, I feel that I vanquished the Nazis and I’m alive and kicking.’ It gives them a excursion for life.”

Onlookers kvelled during this year’s pageant, the first live one since 2018.
Selina Steinfeld groups after winning the Miss Holocaust Survivor beauty pageant on Nov. 16, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

nevertheless, not everyone is onboard with the idea of propping up the contestants whose shocking life experiences, they feel, shouldn’t be reduced. Rami Ostrovski, whose mother Miriam survived multiple extermination camps, called the pageant “pathetic and idiotic and exploitative of the Holocaust.”

But there appears to be at the minimum one person who’s thrilled that the event exists.

“I have no words to express my happiness,” said Haifa, Israel-based winner Steinfeld, who — according to the Times of Israel — said she hopes to “rule the people of Israel to beauty and goodness.” Steinfeld survived mass roundups and massacres of Jews growing up in Romania but survived and immigrated to Israel in 1948.

For founder Sabag, it’s nevertheless a mitzvah to honor these women, considering that only an estimated 195,000 survivors are nevertheless alive, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Holocaust survivor Rivka Papo, 87, gets her makeup done during the event.
AFP via Getty Images
The bodacious bubbes take the stage during the finals of this year’s pageant.
AFP via Getty Images

“These amazing women, Holocaust survivors, are already in their twilight years and will not be here with us for much longer,” said Sabag. “Holocaust survivors are the true heroines of us all and, thanks to them, we are here today.”

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