Last Thursday, the Israeli city of Haifa played host to a most unusual beauty pageant. For one thing, all the finalists were over 70. And for another, they were all Holocaust survivors.

The Miss Holocaust Survivor contest, which featured Jewish women who lived through the horrors of World War II, billed itself as a "celebration of life." Contestant Esther Libber, 74, agreed, adding, "I have the privilege to show the world that Hitler wanted to exterminate us and we are alive. We are also enjoying life. Thank God it's that way."

But the event had its critics. Colette Avital, chairwoman of Israel's leading Holocaust survivors' umbrella group, said, "It sounds totally macabre to me ... I am in favor of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading (survivors) with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful."

Pageant organizer Shimon Sabag, head of a group that provides assistance to Holocaust survivors, disagreed and pointed out that the nearly 300 competitors and 14 finalists were chosen not because of their appearance, but because of their personal stories of overcoming tragedy and rebuilding their lives after the war.

And pageant winner Hava Hershkovitz, 79, had her own take. "This place is full of survivors. It puts us at the center of attention so people will care," she said. "It's not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest, but we're all doing it to show that we're still here."

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