When President Obama visited Israel, the nation put its best face forward. What could be a better face to put forward for America’s first black president than Israel’s first black beauty queen?
The newly crowned Miss Israel is an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant to Israel. Ethiopian immigrants have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, but when President Obama visited Israel, he heard some of their recent success stories.
More than a quarter of all Israeli television viewers watched the judges announce the new Miss Israel of 2013. Titi is her name, short for Yityish Aynaw. She was the only black finalist in this year’s beauty pageant and she has become Israel ’s first black beauty queen. She’s tall, commanding, and outspoken.
“It’s time that someone from my community, someone with my skin color, who is Israeli just like everyone else, represent the country,” Aynaw said.
The judges were captivated by both Aynaw’s beauty and her compelling life story. Born in a small town, Titi was orphaned by the time she was about 10. She moved to Israel to live with her grandparents, who had already left Ethiopia for a new life. As an Ethiopian Jew, Titi said she grew up with stories about the “land of milk and honey,” but her new life in Israel wasn’t all milk and honey.
Titi hardly remembered her grandparents. She was sent to an Israeli boarding school without knowing a word of Hebrew. Some of her classmates made fun of her Ethiopian name, Yitayish.
“What is ‘Yitayish’? This is my name, but it sounds weird,” she said. “There were times they’d call me ‘Tayish.’ In Hebrew, that’s a kind of animal, you know?”
But she was proud of her Ethiopian heritage, and unlike many other Ethiopian Jewish immigrants who took on Hebrew names, she kept her own.
“You are very beautiful,” Obama told her, according Israeli media. “And Michelle would have been very happy to be as tall as you are.”