It is poetic that a few weeks ago, Jewish communities from Jerusalem and around the world were all celebrating Purim, the holiday that celebrates the life of a beautiful young Jewish orphan girl who rose from obscurity and became the savior of her people and the queen of an entire empire. But that’s a story that happened a long time ago, and I’m here today to tell you about a modern day Queen Esther, or Queen of Sheba, however you want to describe the sexy phenomenon that is Yityish Aynaw. Yityish, who is lovingly referred to as “Titi”by those who know her, visited the Hillel center in Florida International University this week and gave me the honor of speaking with her directly. Did I mention she signed my army hat? I guess this gives me bragging rights ; )
Titi was born just twenty five years ago in the small village of Chahawit near the city of Gondar in Ethiopia. She was born into a culture of Ethiopian Jewry that kept very much to themselves for fear of on going persecution. She remembers from a young age walking bear foot and as she personally described to me, sometimes having to light Shabbat candles in secret and “having practically nothing,” as far as material possessions. After eventually having lost both her father and mother, along with many other hardships endured, Titi took her brother Yellek and immigrated to Israel where they would be raised by their Jewish grandparents in the city of Netanyah just north of Tel Aviv.
At just twelve years old, this brave young woman faced new challenges of assimilation into a new culture, but she quickly learned to adapt and master the Hebrew language. She excelled in school as she grew up and eventually did what almost every young Israeli is obligated to do after high school, she joined and bravely served the Israel Defense Forces when she was nineteen years old, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant. Those were the three most defining years for Yityish, as she describes them having given her much needed direction in her life.
After having completed her army service, Titi found her way into a clothing store where she worked as a simple sales clerk, but her stunning beauty would not go unnoticed. It was one of her close friends who actually took the liberty to register Titi for the Miss Universe competition. In February of 2013, , she not only won the title of Miss Israel but instantly received fame world wide for being the first Black and Ethiopian Jewish Miss Israel. Her fame and beauty quickly spread like wildfire around the world, even reaching as far as the White House in Washington D.C. Upon visiting Israel, former President Barak Obama insisted on personally meeting the breathtaking and inspiring Yityish Aynaw, and it was a dream come true for her as well as she was always greatly inspired by the first Black U.S. President and his rise to success, so much that Titi considers Obama to be a mentor to her. She was invited to the gala dinner where she had the chance to speak with both Obama and the late Israeli President, Shimon Peres z”l.
Titi told us how she was later interviewed by a number of news media outlets including the Jerusalem Post and CNN. It was a dream she did not expect to ever come true, said the young supermodel, as she had absolutely no experience modeling prior to the Miss Universe competition. Her story is both compelling and inspiring, the stuff you only hear about from the Bible, but here she was a living example to countless people around the world. I could not help but ask her, as she had inspired so many, what it is that inspires her and kept her going all those years from Ethiopia to Israel today. She smiled and said, “It was my faith, I’m a fighter,”expressing to us how she refused to give up or give in until she got herself out of Ethiopia and on to the life that was her vision and dream.
Yityish Aynaw’s current projects include her own personal touch to the fashion industry, and serving as a beacon of hope for other youth and minorities both in Israel and around the globe. She says her biggest dream however, is to have her own big beautiful family and give them the kind of life she says she never had growing up. She’s the kind of person you want your children to learn from and emulate. She has now become an iconic figure of a legendary nation and culture whose very theme is based on “Tikvah,”HOPE, and that’s exactly what Miss Aynaw has given us and continues to give to so many like her both at home and abroad. I myself have been big fan of Titi since she was first crowned in 2013; to meet her and speak to her was, well, heart melting, to say the least. On behalf of the Hillel of Florida International University, I would like to thank Yityish Aynaw for taking the time to come and speak with us and would like her to know that we too will carry her message of hope and perseverance as we apply it to both our growth on college campuses and the preservation of Jewish life and pride in all its rich diversity. I also want her to know that she’ll always have a loyal admirer in me ; )
– by Uzi Darwiche