NEW MILFORD, NJ—When Yitayish “Titi” Ayenew, the first black
Miss Israel, was a young orphan who moved from Ethiopia to Israel, it was
learning the Hebrew language that turned around her fortunes.
Click photo to download. Caption: Yitayish Ayenew, the first black Miss Israel and also the first woman of Ethiopian heritage to win the crown, poses with the Israeli flag at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergan County, NJ, on June 14. Credit: Maxine Dovere.
“Then, I was a scared child,” Ayenew, 22, told
students at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, NJ, this
month. “I did not know what would be my future, or that I would do the
things I am doing today. For me, an inner change occurred when I overcame
the obstacle of learning Hebrew. I am in control of my destiny—everything is possible.
My life is entirely different, both because of the things I have done and now,
knowing what I want to do.”
Crowned Miss Israel in February, Ayenew, the first woman from Ethiopia to hold the
title, said in an interview with JNS.org,
“Being Miss Israel is a responsibility I take seriously.”
heavily scheduled visit to the U.S. from June 9-14 included speaking
engagements, fundraising events, and time with celebrities of the Jewish
world. She told JNS.org her trip
was “a wonderful opportunity to meet with many people.”
June 14 at Solomon Schechter in New Milford, NJ, Ayenew recounted her journey
from a small village in Ethiopia to the state of Israel, which she described as
“a modern place, with modern schools, where one is expected to be part of a
grew up in a Zionist family in Ethiopia.
always felt we belonged in Israel and were eager to get there,” she told the
Solomon Schechter students. Ayenew’s grandparents immigrated to Israel in 2000,
and her parents had expected to join them, but both of them died. Ten-year-old
Yitayish and her brother were cared for by their aunt, and two years later,
they arrived in Israel with the help of the Jewish Agency for Israel. They
lived with their grandmother in Netanya.
to recall her thoughts upon arriving in Israel, Ayenew told the students, “The
first thing I wanted was to learn Hebrew, and of course to get to my
grandmother’s home. It was challenging for me and for all the other olim
(immigrants). Remember, I was speaking Amharic and had to learn Hebrew
quickly and well—inside and out!”
the Israel Defense Forces, Ayenew supervised a unit of army police charged with
maintaining border checkpoints outside of Jerusalem. Her soldiers screened
Palestinians and Israelis going in and out of the country.
a very responsible job,” she said. “The safety of Israel is dependent on
security inspections. Young people have to learn to check for anything that
could be a problem.” That “wasn’t easy,” she said.
recommend that each of you go to the [Israeli] army,” she advised the
students. “In addition to serving Israel, it is a place for personal
growth. I learned things in the IDF I could not learn in any other place.
By 21, I had faced so many challenges, I am prepared for anything that may
come… and now, I …read more