miss israel370 .
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yityish “Titi” Aynaw was crowned this year as the first Ethiopian-born Miss
She was also picked by The Jerusalem Post last week as one of the
50 most influential Jews in the world. Aynaw joins a list that includes Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the US Treasury Secretary, the founder of Google,
and supermodel Bar Rafaeli. The fact that Aynaw appears on this list is proof
that immigrants are successfully integrating into Israeli
Zionism, from its inception to this day, is like a mosaic of
stories and events. The Zionist dream of the founding fathers and the many
people who yearned for a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of
Israel has turned into reality.
Jews gathered from the four corners of
the world to settle this small piece of land known as the State of
While still a young nation, Israel welcomed Jews from Europe who
were desperate to find a refuge after the horrors of the Holocaust.
in the 1950s, waves of immigrants came from North Africa, Yemen, the Soviet
Union and Ethiopia. The arrival of Jews from these countries played an important
role in modern Israeli history.
The state made an effort to distribute
resources and absorb immigrants as equally as possible. Looking back, Israel
made a number of unintentional errors in the way it absorbed new immigrants from
around the world. On the other hand, there have also been numerous success
stories: Soldiers from a variety of nationalities serve in the IDF; immigrants
hold key positions in education, culture, hitech, as well as in the Foreign
The city of Netanya has been a center for immigration since the
creation of the state. The largest Ethiopian-Israeli community in Israel calls
Netanya its home. The municipality has created numerous projects over the years
aimed at helping immigrants integrate socially, including in schools. The goals
of these programs are to provide immigrants with the tools necessary to thrive
in Israeli society, while remaining proud of their roots.
The city of
Netanya is proud of its schools, many of which boast statistics which show that
25 percent of their student body is made up of immigrants from Ethiopia. Other
cities in Israel have not taken on this complex challenge of integrating
Ethiopian students into their schools. Federal funding has not always been
available, and the Netanya municipality has taken responsibility for matching
Convincing decision makers in the municipality to allocate
such large amounts of funding for projects that empower the Ethiopian community
is not a simple task. The cooperation between the mayor of Netanya and community
leaders has been exemplary. Netanya is currently gearing up for its next
challenge: to secure additional national funding for these types of
Netanya has also discovered an alternative source of financing:
philanthropic funds. The Netanya Foundation, which is headed by Netanya Mayor
Miriam Fierberg-Ikar, has invested tremendous time and resources to promote
programs aimed at integrating and absorbing Ethiopian immigrants. This week, we
will inaugurate a center for the Ethiopian community, which has been made
possible due to support from the IFCJ (International Fellowship of Christians
and Jews) headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
For many years, Rabbi
Eckstein has been making great efforts to aid groups in Israel that so
desperately need assistance. This center complements other efforts to integrate
the new immigrants. One of the center’s goals is to narrow the gap with veteran
Israelis. In addition, the new director of the center is of Ethiopian descent –
another great advantage.
The choosing of Aynaw as this year’s Miss Israel
is a story that will be retold for many years to come.
Aynaw is not just
beautiful; she is also a role model for all other immigrants who’ve made Israel
their home. Aynaw made aliya without her parents at the age of 12, settled in
Netanya and was an outstanding officer in the IDF. She is the essence of the
Zionist dream, and it is quite moving to hear her tell her story – she is the
As the current Miss Israel, Aynaw has involved
herself with international fundraising – in conjunction with the Netanya
Foundation – for educational projects in Netanya. This is not typical of Miss
Israels, and Aynaw should be commended for this great initiative.
weeks’ time, Aynaw will leave for a fundraising tour in the US. She will present
her personal story, and speak about Zionism in general in the hope of raising
the funds necessary to carry out the numerous programs offered by the Netanya
(More information can be found on our website:
www.netanyafoundation.org.) Change does not occur overnight, and Netanya is
making every effort to implement successful programs that will speed up this
process. Young immigrants in Israel look to Aynaw as a role model. They see that
if you work hard and are ambitious, anything is possible. Netanya Foundation
community projects aim to improve the welfare and education of immigrants and to
fulfill the Zionist dream. We believe that this dream can be fulfilled,
especially with the help of activists such as Titi Aynaw. As the Talmud states
in tractate Sanhedrin, “Whoever saves one life, saves the entire
world.”The writer is CEO of the Netanya Foundation – a philanthropic
fund whose aim is to improve the quality of life of the city’s
Translated by Hannah Hochner.