Israel put its best face forward for President Obama, and what better face to put forward for than Israel’s first Black beauty queen?
Titi is her name, short for Yityish Aynaw, is newly crowned Miss Israel, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant to Israel.
She joined Obama Thursday for the official state dinner in Jerusalem. Ethiopian immigrants have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, and Obama had a taste of some of their recent success stories.
A few weeks ago, more than a quarter of all Israeli TV viewers watched the judges announced the new Miss Israel of 2013.
Titi 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.
What captivated the judges was not only her beauty, but also her life story.
Born in a small town, she 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 in Israel.
Titi said as an Ethiopian Jew, she grew up with stories about the land of milk and honey, but her new life in Israel wasn’t all milk and honey.
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 says. “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.