Israel’s newest beauty queen, Yityish (“Titi”) Aynaw, 21, has become the first Ethiopian-born Miss Israel.
Aynaw was crowned at Haifa’s International Convention Center on February 27, and will go on to represent her country at the Miss World 2013 pageant in Jakarta, Indonesia, on September 28.
The beauty queen comes from less than royal beginnings: She was two years old when her father died, and 12 years old when her mother died back in Ethiopia. She and her brother made aliyah shortly afterward to join their grandfather already in Israel, and she successfully struggled to learn Hebrew and acclimate to the new culture.
Aynaw, whose first name means “a look to the future” in Amharic, served as an officer in the military police and then took a job managing a clothing store. Now, her life will undoubtedly take on new directions.
Already at the pageant, she expressed her desire to one day become a successful model in the mold of Tyra Banks, and perhaps even Israel’s first Ethiopian television host.
Just after the pageant, she handled a flurry of press interviews in Hebrew and English, and posed for the cover of La’Isha, the Israeli women’s magazine that has sponsored the Miss Israel pageant since 1950. Though she is very proud of her heritage, she said that she intended to represent all Israelis as the country’s reigning beauty queen.
Making her community proud
The number of Israelis born in Ethiopia and to Ethiopian-born parents is estimated to be about 100,000, scattered in cities and towns across the country. Aynaw lives in Netanya, a coastal Mediterranean city between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
She got a big round of applause from onlookers after she told the panel of judges: "It's important to have a first [beauty] queen from the Ethiopian community. Israel has many ethnic groups and many colors, and it's important to show it to the world."
At the pageant, Aynaw mentioned the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., as a role model. "He fought for justice and equality, and that's one of the reasons I'm here – to show that there are also good things in my community, which are not presented in the media.
She admitted publicly to having had a tough time at first in Israel, crediting a good friend, Noa, with helping her through her teen years in a new country. She fast learned to flourish in school and later in the military.
The finalists for Miss Israel 2013
This year, six of the 20 nominees for Miss Israel are currently serving as soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. At the same pageant in Haifa, 18-year-old Bar Hefer of Tel Aviv, an army officer, was judged Miss Israel Universe and will go on to the 62nd Miss Universe pageant sometime this year.
The Miss World and Miss Universe pageants, both begun in the 1950s, are run by different organizations.