Last week, a 21-year-old German woman named Tamar Morali made headlines worldwide after she became a finalist for the Miss Germany pageant, making her the first Jewish woman ever to make it that far in the competition.
Or is she? A few days after Morali’s accomplishment was reported, Valeria Bystritskaia, who won the contest in 2011, came forward to announce that she was Jewish and that she had kept that fact secret because she was afraid anti-Semitism would hurt her chances.
Born in Moscow, Bystritskaia, 31, moved with her mother to Germany in 1993, motivated largely, she told the JTA in an interview, by the anti-Semitism they experienced in Russia. The two settled in Karlsruhe, with the mother instructing the daughter not to reveal her Jewish identity to anyone. At 17, Bystritskaia was signed up by a modeling agent, and went on to win numerous beauty pageants before being crowned Miss Germany in 2011. She never told anyone of her religious identity, she said, but, after her victory, it somehow became known, causing some anonymous trolls to post menacing notes like “Hitler forgot about her and her family” on social media. Rattled by the bigotry, Bystritskaia eventually left Germany for the United States, where she now lives with her husband and family.
But in a talmudic twist, if Morali wins the pageant, both she and Bystritskaia may safely claim to be the first Jewish Miss Germany: Bystriskaia, the JTA reported, won the Miss Universe Germany competition, meaning she went on to compete for the international Miss Universe crown, while Morali is competing in a pageant organized by the Miss Germany Corporation, which is an independent organization and is not affiliated with the Miss Universe contest. Dayenu.