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.
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“Israel accepted me. Israel hugged me. I was educated there, and all the options were open for me to be what I want to be,” Aynaw said. “I can tell you the bottom line, which is that if I had not come to Israel, I can’t imagine where I’d be today. Most likely I’d already be a mother, living in a village, with no education or anything.”

Aynaw follows in the footsteps of other Israeli beauty queens who reflected demographic changes and concerns in Israeli society.In 1952, Ora Vered, an immigrant from Yemen, became the first Miss Israel of Middle Eastern Jewish descent, at a time during which tensions between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim were high. Kiev-born Jana Khodriker won in 1993, during the peak of Soviet immigration to Israel. And in 1999, when peace with the Palestinians seemed to be just around the corner, Rana Raslan became the first Arab Miss Israel.

Like her predecessors, Aynaw has been doing her share of hasbara. But the main goal of her one-week trip to the United States was not public diplomacy, but fundraising for social initiatives in Netanya, her home since arriving in Israel. She’s cooperating with the Netanya Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that aims to improve the quality of life for the city’s residents. One of its projects is to create an after-school culture and music center for kids in the low-income neighborhood in which Aynaw still lives.

Responding to the students’ questions at the Solomon Schechter school, Aynaw reminisced about her time in the Israel Defense Forces. She served as an officer and was responsible for training soldiers who were assigned to checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. Aynaw said military service was crucial for her integration into Israeli society and that it also empowered her to be confident in life. She encouraged the American students to consider going to Israel after high school and enlisting in the IDF.

The concerned murmurs of two parents in the audience in response to this suggestion made clear that it did not meet universal approval.

The head of the school, Ruth Gafni, emphasized that Aynaw’s life story is important because it demonstrates how the global Jewish community is a united mosaic of people.

“It is truly a wonderful story of growth, development and transitions that didn’t take anything away from her, but enhanced who she is,” Gafni said.

Aynaw will represent Israel in the Miss Universe competition in Moscow on November 9.

Contact Yermi Brenner at brenner@forward.com


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