TEL AVIV — It’s been an astonishing three weeks for Yityish Aynaw, an immigrant orphan from Ethiopia, who became the first black Miss Israel last month, and was invited to today’s gala dinner with visiting US President Barack Obama.
When Yityish Aynaw arrived in Israel as a 12-year-old, winning beauty contests and dining with presidents was as far from her thoughts as her native Ethiopia is from her adopted land.
Her mother had just died, leaving her an orphan – her father had died years earlier. So her mother’s parents, who were among thousands of Ethiopian Jews already living in Israel, arrived in Addis Ababa to fetch Yityish and her older brother.
In their new home, they had to learn Hebrew from scratch.
“It wasn’t easy because I couldn’t speak the language and I was put into a regular class without any help,” Aynaw, now 21, told the BBC World Service.
“It was a new language. It was a new culture. Quite often children even laughed at me,” she says, though she adds that she also met many kind people.
“I felt a responsibility to prove myself in everything I did and to improve myself as well,” she says.
After school, like most other Israelis, she performed military service. She then stayed on in the army and was serving as an officer when she left, after three years, in September last year.
Before she was selected as Miss Israel on February 27, she was a manager in a shoe shop in Netanya.
“For people from my country of origin it is a source of great pride,” she says of her new title.
During the competition she named the black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King as one of her heroes.
But another hero, she said, was the US president. “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,” she says.
“I couldn’t believe that one of the most influential people in the world, the head of such an important state, would invite someone like me to attend such an important event. It has only just now sunk in and I can understand that it’s happening.
“It is a great honour not just for me, but the other people that I represent.” (BBC)