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Aynaw says it’s important for Israelis to see the positive side of the Ethiopian community. She compares the effect of her winning Miss Israel to Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States. The two met at the Israeli president’s residence during Obama’s recent trip to the region.
“There are wonderful things about the [Ethiopian] community, and it’s important that [Israelis] see it,” she told JTA. “Israel is a multicultural state. We’re diverse and we come from different countries, so we need to show that outwardly.”
Rada and Pierce report incidents of racism directed at them because of their skin color. A woman once accused Rada of coming to Israel only for the money. And Pierce says in her hometown of Dimona, she used to be called “kushi,” a Hebrew pejorative used to describe blacks.
“There are many stigmas about the community, and unfortunate stories,” said Hava Tizazu, an Ethiopian-Israeli actress who works with at-risk African youth. “Now there are new personalities who are beautiful and positive. It helps to change the image, but it’s just one step in a longer process.”
Since she advanced to the semifinals on “The Voice,” Pierce says the slurs have all but stopped. She was voted off the show in March, but like Rada she hopes to keep performing after her army service.
“I want to be on stage,” Pierce said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m modeling, singing or acting. I have to be on stage.”
Aynaw also hopes to model and act, and to support youth arts clubs during her year as Miss Israel. She will represent Israel at the Miss World competition in September in Indonesia.
“I feel like a very important person,” Aynaw said. “I don’t usually get up and see myself on all of the TV channels. I’m definitely getting used to it.”