The newly crowned Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw, said on Wednesday that she believed she had been invited to meet US President Barack Obama next week because they were both the first people of African heritage to attain their respective titles.

Asked by The Jerusalem Post why she thought she had been invited to the state dinner being hosted by President Shimon Peres next Thursday, Aynaw replied that she was “the first black Miss Israel to be chosen and [Obama] is the first black American president.

These go together.”

Aynaw, 21, a former IDF officer, became the first Ethiopian-born Israeli to win the pageant on February 27.

She said she was “very excited” about the prospect of meeting a leader whose success she cited as a “notable influence on her life.”

Obama “is someone who accomplished things by dint of his hard work,” she said.

Aynaw told the Post that she “didn’t believe that this was happening” when she received a personal dinner invitation from “President Shimon Peres himself” on Tuesday.

Calling the opportunity to dine with the US and Israeli presidents “wonderful,” Aynaw said that as a young immigrant, she “never thought that such a thing could happen” to her.

During the Miss Israel competition, Aynaw told the judges, “It’s important that a member of the Ethiopian community win the competition for the first time. There are many different communities of many different colors in Israel, and it’s important to show that to the world.”

Both of Aynaw’s parents died in Ethiopia, and she came to Israel when she was 12.

Acclimating to Israel was difficult at first, Aynaw said, but she picked up the language quickly with the help of a friend. She studied at Kfar Hanoar Hadati (the “Religious Youth Village”) near Kfar Hassidim, southeast of Haifa.

Still not married, Aynaw now lives in Netanya – where her grandmother also resides – and has been working as a saleswoman at a clothing store since her discharge from the army.

During the competition, Aynaw cited the slain American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as one of her heroes.

“He fought for justice and equality, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here: I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren’t always represented in the media,” she said.

A feature-length interview with Aynaw will run in next week’s Jerusalem Post Magazine. •

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