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!
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • 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.