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Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, the first black woman to win the Miss Israel beauty pageant, discussed her life and views on perceptions of beauty and race in Israel at a talk on Friday at the Fong Auditorium.
Hasani A. Hayden ’19 and the Jewish National Fund organized Aynaw’s talk, entitled "Hasani and JNF Present: Titi Aynaw, The First Black Miss Israel.” In her speech, Aynaw, who moved from Ethiopia to Israel at age 12, emphasized the impact of education and growing up in Israel on her ability to succeed.
Aynaw described her experience as the only black woman in the Miss Israel competition as one that stayed with her in later years. In the year after her victory in 2013, more Ethiopian women entered the beauty competition, according to Aynaw, who was a judge in the 2014 Miss Israel pageant.
“There were girls that wanted to try it and didn’t know how to do it,” Aynaw said. “They didn’t think there was a place for the black skin. After me, there was a place for more models.”
Aynaw also discussed the importance of Israel’s education system to her success. It inspired her to begin “Titi’s Project,” an initiative to help underprivileged children in the Netanya area that provides them with educational, after-school activities to further their learning experiences.
“I want this project to be in every city in Israel. This is my big, big, big goal because there are many kids who need this project,” she said in an interview. “They really learn there. They really learn music, computers, and English.”
After Aynaw gave her speech, one student asked in a question and answer session about Aynaw’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict in light of her positive experiences in Israel. Aynaw responded that although she served mandatory time in the Israel Defense Forces, she does not see herself as a political figure.
“Personally, I don’t think Titi was the best person to challenge on that issue, given the fact that Titi served her required time and it’s just a duty,” Hayden said. “She’s not a politician making policy and she’s not anti-Palestinian...At a personal level, it seems like she has much love for her fellow Israelis.”
He added he thought the event was meant to acknowledge Aynaw’s success, and not to discuss Israeli politics.
“I hope a big thing that is understood from this event not that Israel is a perfect place by any means,” Hayden said. “Just to celebrate Titi Aynaw as an individual—what she had been able to accomplish with her limited resources.”
—Staff writer Alice S. Cheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @alicescheng.
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