The Incredible Rise Of Yityish Aynaw, The First Black Miss Israel

In a decade, the 21-year-old went from being an orphan in Ethiopia to having dinner with Barack Obama.

This is Yityish Aynaw, the first black woman ever to become Miss Israel.

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Israel is only 65 years old, but the Miss Israel pageant has occurred each of the past 63 years. Aynaw is the first Ethiopian to win the pageant. She made a significant impression on judges (and the world, obviously) when she told them she should win because it was time for a black woman to hold the title.

Her crowning in February came amidst ongoing protests of discrimination against Israel’s Ethiopian community. Israeli officials are investigating allegations that Ethiopian women were given contraceptive shots without full consent, which many activists blame for the 50% decline in the Israeli Ethiopian community’s birthrate.

Thousands of Ethiopians were airlifted to Israel in 1984 and 1991 to escape civil war, but Aynaw’s grandparents moved there in 2000. She went to live with them in March 2003 at age 12 following the death of her mother, who had become suddenly ill (her father passed away when she was a year old, but she doesn’t know of what causes).

When she got to Israel, Aynaw didn’t speak a word of Hebrew, but she became fluent in it at her Jewish boarding school in Haifa. In an excellent recent profile of the beauty queen, Tablet describes her Hebrew now as “accentless and expressive.” Though pageant contestants typically compete using Hebrew names, Aynaw chose not to. “Yitayish” translates to “look,” or “looking toward the future,” Aynaw told Tablet — in Amharic.

On Thursday, Aynaw met President Obama at the state dinner hosted by Israel’s president Shimon Peres.

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The White House invited her upon learning she was the first black immigrant to win the Miss Israel title.

Aynaw told the BBC, “I was influenced and inspired by Obama. Like him, I was also raised by my grandmother. Nothing was handed to me on a plate, and like him I also had to work very hard and long to achieve things in my life. To this day he inspires me just as he inspires the rest of the world.”

In this clip, you can watch Aynaw speak to Jewish News One about her invitation to meet the POTUS.

And she spoke to the press about her intention to tell Obama to free Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard is serving a life term in North Carolina for spying on the U.S. for Israel, charges he pled guilty to in 1987.

Aynaw, who was managing a shoe store in the town of Netanya before being crowned Miss Israel, hopes to be an Israeli diplomat one day.

The beauty also covers La’Isha magazine — Israel’s equivalent of Vogue — which sponsors the pageant.

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And just like in Vogue, black cover models seem to be a rarity.

When she won the pageant, she was photographed hugging her brother in tears.

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You can watch footage of her win and her cover shoot for La’Isha in this video.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Israeli officials had admitted to giving Ethiopian women birth control shots without their consent. The story has been updated to state that they are investigating allegations of this practice.

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