Yesterday I had the privilege to meet with Yityish (Titi) Aynaw, Miss Israel 2013. She is really someone to look up to, not only because she is over six feet tall! Ms. Aynaw is someone who is a role model for our youth, and indeed for all of us. Titi overcame tremendous adversity to reach her present point of life as a representative of her adopted country.
Titi during her IDF service as an Officer in the Military Police
Whilst many of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community can trace their roots in the country to the two dramatic airlifts of 1984 and 1991 (Operations Moses and Solomon), Titi’s journey from Ethiopia was quite different. Orphaned at the age of twelve, she came alone to Israel to live with her maternal grandparents. She came without the emotional, social, cultural, and linguistic skills necessary for an easy absorption. Instead of wallowing in self-pity for the harsh lot given to her by life she rose above it, and through sheer grit and determination arrived at the point where she is today. As Titi so expressively stated during an interview with the BBC:
I was raised by my grandmother. Nothing was handed to me on a plate. I had to work very hard and long to achieve things in my life. I felt a responsibility to prove myself in everything I did and to improve myself as well.
It is important to acknowledge that with all of Israel’s incredible successes in many fields since its creation, there are issues, including immigrant absorption, that Israel is grappling with as it continues to stride in the 21st century. Absorption difficulties have been especially felt by Israel’s Ethiopian immigrants. After the dramatic rescue from certain death by Israel, which was a fine example of Zionism in action, many Ethiopian Jews still feel marginalised in society. Ms. Aynaw has many role models in her life including Martin Luther King Junior. She stated in a recent interview that:
Martin Luther King fought for justice and equality, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren’t always represented in the media. Israel is a multicultural state. We’re diverse and we come from different countries, so we need to show that outwardly.
President Obama, who specifically asked to meet her when he was in Israel recently, is another one of Titi’s role models. Imagine if you told a twelve year old orphan in a new country that she would overcome many of her absorption difficulties, serve as an officer in the IDF and be invited to meet with the President of the USA at a State gala, all within less than a decade after her arrival? Only in Israel!