From an orphan to Miss Israel…

At just 21 years old, Yityish Aynaw has gone on a remarkable life journey from a little orphan girl to an Israeli beauty queen.

Aynaw was born in Chahawit, a small village in northern Ethiopia. Her father died when she was young and when she was just 12 years old she lost her mother to illness. Heartbroken, she arrived in Israel with her brother to live with their Ethiopian Jewish grandparents.

While still a child, Aynaw was suddenly faced with a new language, a new culture and all the rest of challenges that come with starting a new life in a foreign country.

Like the estimated 125,000 Ethiopian Jews who have arrived in waves over the years to Israel, Aynaw experienced the same struggle to assimilate into her new environment. But Aynaw threw herself at it, not shying away from all that her adopted country expected of her, including mastering Hebrew and serving in the Israeli army after school.

A few years ago, after finishing her army service, Aynaw started working as a sales clerk in a clothing store. Tall and beautiful, she had long had her eye on becoming a model. It was a friend of hers who entered her name into the Miss Israel competition.

Her winning the “Miss Israel” title changed her life instantly. Within a matter of weeks, her name and image were splashed across newspapers and websites, both in Israel and abroad.

As the first ever black Miss Israel, Aynaw is seen by some as a beacon of hope that racial prejudice is beginning to fade away in the country. Aynaw says that she’s never been the victim of racism.

And although her future seems set to be filled with glamorous days, Aynaw says ultimately her formula for a happy life rests on her dream of, “…having a big family, a big house and a lot of kids,” she says. “I want to give my kids the experience I never had. That is my great dream.”

This Passover we, at Israel Today, are going to embark on a project to shed a little ray of hope into the lives of some of our Ethiopian immigrants that are having a difficult time assimilating into their new community.