It’s not every day that you get to meet Miss Israel.
But Sunday at the St. Paul Jewish Federation Gala at Temple of Aaron, hundreds of us got to spend a few moments radiating in the knock-you-off-your-feet smiles of 21-year-old Miss Israel 2013, Yityish “Titi” Aynaw. Born in Ethiopia, she also happens to be the first black Miss Israel.
And if you stopped reading this article right here, maybe that’s all you’d think she was. A stunning beauty and a reflection of the incredible diversity of the State of Israel. But a soldier? A student? A role model? A future political leader of the State of Israel?
Yep folks, she’s ALL that.
She took a few minutes Sunday night to chat with TC Jewfolk about her family, her modeling career, and the impact she’s having on the lives of young women in her community, throughout Israel, and around the world.
When Titi was growing up in Ethiopia, she said, Israel was always on her family’s mind. “When I was born, in my house,” she told me, “Everyone was talking about Israel. All the time. I don’t remember a time they didn’t talk about Israel or think about Israel. I knew that I needed to be in Israel, even when I was young. I dreamed about Israel.”
Her father was a sheriff, a commander in the Ethiopian military and he died in the war. When her mother passed away in 2004, she and her older brother moved to Israel to live with her grandparents. At that point, she told the Gala crowd, “I knew I needed to go to Israel. I needed to open a new page.”
When she moved to Israel, Titi started school right away, not speaking a word of Hebrew, but quickly picked it up, eventually excelling at her studies and becoming student body president in her high school. After high school, like most Israelis she joined the Israeli army, and she became an officer, supervising and working with mostly male soldiers (“It’s more fun,” she told the Gala crowd, to laughter). While in the army, one of her closest friends entered her into the Miss Israel contest and the rest is history.
“It’s an amazing thing what happened to me,” Titi told me. “I am the first black Ethiopian to be Miss Israel. It’s a big deal.” Young women send her emails thanking her for being their role model. “They say, I’m going to do this, and this, and this, because of you.” She encourages young women to study hard in school, and serve the country in the army before attempting modeling careers, as she did.
Titi is currently modeling in Israel for three different companies — glasses, swimsuits, and clothes (you can google her to see all her stunning photos). After speaking at the Gala in Saint Paul, she was on her way to New York meet with a top modeling agency about starting an international modeling career. After she flies back to Israel, she will go back to her studies at the IDC Herzliya college in Herzliya, Israel, where she is studying government and hopes one day to go into politics. On top of everything else, she also recently launched “Titi’s Project” to raise funds for after school enrichment programs for underprivileged children in Netanya, Israel.
I asked her how she juggles it all — “I am all the time busy,” she said with a laugh.
Whatever she does next, and I hope she gets to achieve her dream of modeling on an international stage, there is no question she will be taking Israel with her, and introducing millions of people to an Israel they don’t see in traditional media. As she told me, “I love this country, Israel. It’s my country.”