Miss Israel 2013 Yityish Titi Aynaw spoke at Cal Poly Nov. 2, sharing her story of growing up in Ethiopia and living as a woman and minority in Israel before her success.
The presentation was organized in conjunction with Mustangs United for Israel (MUFI), Cal Poly’s pro-Israel student organization, and is just one stop on her ongoing 12-campus tour with the Jewish National Fund. For MUFI, Aynaw’s visit is another step towards their goal of raising cultural awareness and representation for the people of Israel.
“I think it was more about diversity and women empowerment,” MUFI President and mathematics sophomore Michal Golovanevsky said. “She got to have her dream come true, despite being a woman, despite being from Ethiopia and being a minority.”
Aynaw began her speech with stories of her childhood. She revealed to the audience that both her parents died when she was a child, leaving her only with the knowledge of her Jewish heritage and a desire to move to Israel as a way of returning to her homeland.
“The first thing that I remember learning was that ‘You are Jewish, you need to move to Israel,’” Aynaw said. “All the time I felt very connected to Israel, I always heard about it, I even dreamt about Israel.”
She spoke about the adversity she faced upon first moving to Israel, and her accomplishments as a woman in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a military force unique in its ongoing conscription of both men and women.
“At first they didn’t respect me,” Aynaw said when describing her time as lieutenant of the Military Police Corps, the Israeli military police and provost of the IDF . “I became tough, and got used to having to earn it. Then I’d get my respect back, kicking them, using shotguns in the middle of the night to wake them up. I knew I had the respect when they addressed me as lieutenant.”
Aynaw’s descriptions of rising above living on the streets of Ethiopia, being a minority in Israel and fighting against patriarchal attitudes during her military service all contributed to her message — she had never let anything like race or gender keep her down.
“Israel is a very diverse country and she definitely represents that,” Golovanevsky said. “And she speaks from her heart.”
Since becoming Miss Israel, Aynaw has reached new heights advocating for the state of Israel and spreading her message of empowerment among women and minorities everywhere.
“Here I was standing there with President Barack Obama, and ten years before that I was walking barefoot in Ethiopia with the one dream to live in Israel and be a Jewish person there,” Aynaw said, recollecting what she believes is her most accomplished moment. “There were nights my mother didn’t have the money for food for us and I became the first ever African model in Israel on billboards and on magazine covers. And I am so grateful.”