Anything’s possible

Yityish “Titi” Aynaw's appearance on 50 most influential Jews list shows immigrants are successfully integrating into Israeli society.

May 28, 2013 21:50
4 minute read.
Miss Israel Yityish Aynaw

miss israel370 . (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Yityish “Titi” Aynaw was crowned this year as the first Ethiopian-born Miss Israel.

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 society.

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 Israel.

While still a young nation, Israel welcomed Jews from Europe who were desperate to find a refuge after the horrors of the Holocaust.

And 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 Ministry.

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 these funds.

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 projects.

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 Israeli Cinderella.

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.

In two 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 Foundation.

(More information can be found on our website: 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 residents.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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