Volume 8, Issue 11 / Cheshvan 5766 / November 2005
Says Elena, "I feel a great responsibility that the Israeli people chose me to be Miss Israel."|
Elena Ralph has a fairy tale aliyah story: going from a lone immigrant student to Miss Israel in three short years. While most new immigrant students are busy adjusting to their new life and learning a new language, Elena is representing Israel all over the world as Miss Israel 2005.
"Sometimes I feel that I am in a dream and that this didn’t really happen to me," says Elena. "But I feel a great responsibility that the Israeli people chose me to be Miss Israel. I represented this country that I love so much at the Miss Universe pageant, and it was incredibly humbling."
Elena grew up in Donyetsk, Ukraine. Her mother is a saleswomen and her father is a businessman. It was Elena's grandmother who told her she was Jewish when Elena was a child. It was also her grandmother who heard about the Jewish Agency Youth Club at the Hesed and told Elena about it.
"My cousin and I were twelve years old and we decided to take my grandmother's advice and go to the Youth Club. A whole new world opened to us and our Jewish identities blossomed," says Elena.
The Youth Club became a second home to Elena. She then went on to become a counselor at a Jewish Agency Summer Camp. "This was one of the most intense experiences of my life," says Elena with enthusiasm. "I gradually saw myself as more Israeli than Ukrainian."
At the age of 17 Elena knew that she wanted to make aliyah. As an only child she convinced her parents that moving to Israel was the best choice for her future. "My parents were afraid that going to a new country alone, with no friends or family would be very difficult. I told them that deep inside I knew that returning to my homeland was right for me."
Elena came to Israel through the Jewish Agency's Selah program. Selah, which stands for Students Before Their Parents, is a 10-month academic preparatory course for high school graduates from the FSU. The program includes room and board, intensive Hebrew-language studies (ulpan), cultural activities, and a special course of studies to prepare the students for post-secondary education.
Elena lived in Hadera with a group of 50 Selah students from the FSU. She did not know anyone, but after the first few months the group formed tight-knit friendships. They shared the unique experience of learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. Upon completing Selah they went their separate ways, but are still in touch.
"Who would have thought that a new immigrant such as me would receive such support and love from my new country," says Elena. |
"These people are my closest friends," says Elena. "Selah brought us together, and we have an incredible bond."
Upon completing Selah, Elena chose to study political science and sociology at Tel Aviv University. She received a Student Authority Scholarship supported by the Jewish Agency, which provides tuition and a living stipend for new immigrant students.
At University, friends and strangers told Elena that she should be a model or try out for a beauty pageant. At the time, Elena was cleaning houses in order to supplement her living stipend.
"I had never really thought of myself as a model," says Elena. "And I had no idea how to enter the beauty pageant." However, Elena's friend, who was crowned runner-up in the 2004 Miss Israel beauty pageant, helped Elena enter the competition.
"I didn't really think I would win," explains Elena, "especially since I was a new immigrant who still spoke Hebrew with a Russian accent."
To her amazement, Elena was crowned Miss Israel 2005. The Jewish Agency brought Elena's parents to Israel to be with her at this joyous time. "Who would have thought that a new immigrant such as me would receive such support and love from my new country," says Elena.
Elena represented Israel with pride at the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand. She was one of the top ten finalists from over 80 contestants. She met other women from around the world and played an important role in representing Israel in a positive light.
Natalie Glebova, a Russian-born Canadian, was crowned Miss Universe. She and Elena became fast friends, sharing their immigrant experiences and conversing together in Russian. Says Elena, "Both of us are very grateful for the opportunities we have been given in our new countries. I feel that Israel has embraced me, and I want to do what I can to help others."
Elena holds the Miss Israel title until April 2005. She wishes to use this wonderful opportunity to help children in need and to work with the Jewish Agency to give young immigrants equal opportunities for a bright future in Israel.
Written by Lisa Samin