Dazzling Miss Israel Brings Message of Jewish Diversity to America

Trailblazing Ethiopian-Born Beauty Proud of Africa and Israel

yermi brenner

By Yermi Brenner

Published June 25, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw, entered a Solomon Schechter Day School prekindergarten class, in New Milford, N.J., a caretaker excitedly asked the children, “Do you know where she’s from?”

“Africa!” one confident little girl shouted.

The adult quickly corrected the 3-year-old, explaining that Aynaw is in fact from “Eretz Israel.”

The little girl’s reaction demonstrated one way in which the distinctive background of the current holder of the Miss Israel title is playing out. For many of the children — and adults —who met Aynaw as she traveled the tristate area in June, it was a first encounter with a black Israeli Jew.

Aynaw, 21, was one of about 71,500 Ethiopian Jews who immigrated to Israel between 1990 and 2004. Born in the village of Chahawit, in Ethiopia’s Gondar Province, Aynaw immigrated to Israel at age 12, after her parents had died. She did not know a word of Hebrew. It was a transition, as she recalled, of going “from the Third World to the First World.”

In Israel, Aynaw reunited with her grandparents, who had immigrated a few years earlier. She spent time in an absorption center, and eventually settled in her grandparents’ apartment in Netanya, a coastal city north of Tel Aviv that has a large community of Ethiopian immigrants.

“I was a frightened girl who did not have a clue as to what the future holds for me,” Aynaw said in an interview with reporters at the Schechter School. “I didn’t know how I would integrate, and I didn’t think that I would ever get to do all the things I am doing today.”

Today, Aynaw — better known by her nickname, Titi — is a national icon. Since winning the beauty pageant in February, she has become a fixture on Israeli TV and in magazines, sharing time and again her heart-warming story of immigration, integration and success. But the integration of most Ethiopian immigrants in Israel has been anything but smooth. A report by Israel’s state comptroller, published last March, found that more than half of the families that emigrated from Ethiopia are living below the poverty line, double the national rate.

Interviewed by the Forward following her Miss Israel victory last February, Aynaw said that though there is racism toward her community within Israeli society, she has not experienced it. Speaking at the school on June 14, Aynaw chose to portray only the rosy side of her integration.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.