Titi Aynaw becomes first Ethiopian immigrant selected as Miss Israel

February 27, 2013

On February 27, 2013, Yityish (Titi) Aynaw became the first Ethiopian immigrant to become Miss Israel. Titi grew up in the small Jewish village of Chahawit in the Gondar province of Ethiopia; her family belonged to the Beta Israel community. Titi’s father passed away when she was still a baby and her mother died when Titi was twelve. Titi and her brother then  made aliyah to Israel and lived with their grandparents, who were already living in Netanya. There they had to adapt to the new culture and language.

From a young age Aynaw sought to subvert the stereotypical narrative of a small Ethiopian immigrant girl. Her determination to prove herself in all aspects of life led her to excel in school, and she later became a Lieutenant in an all-male platoon of 300 men in the IDF.

In 2013, when Aynaw was 21, her childhood friend enrolled her in the Miss Israel competition as a way to subvert the stereotypical image of pageant girls. Aynaw won due to her cool demeanor and commitment to bettering race relations in her beloved Israel. Subsequently, Aynaw was invited by United States President Barack Obama to attend a gala with Shimon Peres, and she was named the 39th most influential Jew of 2013 by The Jerusalem Post. Her win was a sign of change and acceptance of the Ethiopian community in Israel.

Using the platform Miss Israel has given her, Aynaw raises awareness of the economic, educational, and social hardships Ethiopian Jews experience after making aliyah to Israel. Subsequent to her win, she launched the “Titi Project,” which provides extracurricular activities to disadvantaged Ethiopian youth from Netanya; she plans to expand the project to provide more children with the opportunities she lacked growing up. In 2016, Aynaw started working to establish a community arts education center in Netanya to help at-risk children. Since then, she has also been spreading her message about diversity of color and gender to universities across the United States. In 2019 she visited nine college campuses around the United States to talk about diversity and inclusion, in what was her sixth speaking tour of American college campuses.

Sources:

“Catching Up with Titi Aynaw, the First Ethiopian Woman to Become Miss Israel.” alma, August 3, 2020. https://www.heyalma.com/catching-up-with-titi-aynaw-the-first-ethiopian-woman-to-become-miss-israel/

“Miss Israel Celebrates Diversity on College Campuses.” JNF.org, January 6, 2020. https://www.jnf.org/menu-3/press-releases/press-release-stories/january-26-2020

“First Black Miss Israel Redefines What It Means To Be A Woman.” The Wire, November 5, [2014].

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Yityish (Titi) Aynaw at the Miss Universe 2013 Night Out Party.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Titi Aynaw becomes first Ethiopian immigrant selected as Miss Israel ." (Viewed on February 8, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/feb/27/2013/titi-aynaw-becomes-first-ethiopian-immigrant-selected-miss-israel>.

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