TEL AVIV - Israel's first transgender beauty pageant brought together contestants from the Holy Land's three main faiths on Friday in an unconventional show of tolerance and coexistence.
In what organisers described as an ethnic "mosaic", those vying for the Miss Trans Israel 2016 crown included a Jewish confectioner from an Orthodox Jerusalem family, a Muslim belly-dancer from Tel Aviv and a Christian ballerina from Nazareth.
The one declared winner when the contest concludes on Friday evening will be Israel's representative at the Miss Trans Star International pageant in Barcelona in September. But several of the 12 contestants described the event as an achievement in itself.
"My goal is not to win, but to send a message to the Arab communities in Israel or abroad, to accept the other," said Carolin Khoury, a Muslim who described overcoming sometimes violent opposition to her gender choice from her family.
"The Israeli police helped me to move out of my home, and despite all of the bad situations, I came through, I kept moving toward my dream, and here I am now," she told Reuters. "This competition will open the door for some people."
Israel has mostly liberal laws on sexual identity, with openly gay and transgender troops in its conscript military. But people who are homosexual or transgender often face hostility from religious conservatives in the Jewish majority and Muslim and Christian Arab minorities.
An ultra-Orthodox Jew is on trial for murder, accused of killing a teenage girl during a stabbing spree at last year's Jerusalem gay pride parade.
"Israeli people like transgenders but they don't have enough information about transgenders," said pageant judge Efrat Tilma at the prestigious venue, Tel Aviv's Habima National Theatre.
"Among us there are judges, there are doctors, there are lawyers, there are people who are working in hi-tech positions and, as well, people who would like to go to the Israeli parliament and to represent us in our parliament."