Bar Rafaeli has some competition.
On a windy Tuesday night on a rooftop overlooking Lower Manhattan, Yityish Aynaw, the first black woman to hold the title “Miss Israel,” dazzled a crowd of chic 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings who turned out to meet her at the penthouse apartment of Manhattan Internet entrepreneur Ari Ackerman.
Last week’s party, a summer kickoff for the Young Leadership Division of New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, helped Aynaw, 21, to raise funds for a cause that brought her to New York: a planned community center in Netanya for at-risk youth.
Statuesque in white, Aynaw, whose nickname is “Titi,” shared a bit of her story: orphaned at age 10 by her mother’s death, at age 12 she was brought by grandparents to live in Israel. She became an army officer and recently, after a friend entered her name as a contestant in the Miss Israel Pageant, won the “Miss Israel” crown.
“Sometimes I think I’m in a dream because too many things have happened for me,” she told The Jewish Week at the event. “It is an honor for me to represent the State of Israel. It is hard work, and I feel happy with that.”
Prior to her formal remarks, Aynaw, who just returned from visiting Ethiopia for the first time since emigrating, spoke to The Jewish Week of the need to expedite Jewish immigration to Israel from Ethiopia. Candidly sharing that helping her family to come to Israel was a high priority for her after being crowned, she shared her hope that more Jews can come. “They want to come to Israel and they have to come to Israel,” she said.
She spoke, too, of the need to provide more structure and outlets for Ethiopian Jewish teens – the cause that brought her to New York, courtesy of The Netanya Foundation.
“Today they don’t have any programs, and they are looking on the street [for something to do],” she said. “I want to open a community center. It will be lectures, as well as sports, culture and education.”
Although she met with President Barack Obama last March, she said she didn’t get to make good on her stated desire — expressed to several media outlets — to ask him to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. She said she “didn’t have much time” to discuss the issue, which might be better handled “quietly,” and at any rate, did not see the president on this visit since “he’s busy.”
Guests drifted from within the apartment, decorated with blue and white flowers, to the rooftop, sipping Israeli wines and vying for a chance to chat with Miss Israel.
“I’m proud, as a Jewish person, to see her,” said Chava Goldstein, 27, of Manhattan. “She’s so beautiful, a strong presence, and very sweet as well as down-to-earth.”
“From the moment she stepped into the room, the party took on a new energy,” said guest Adam Low, 26. “I was immediately taken with her beauty. But in speaking with her, it’s clear she’s no surface-level pageant winner. She is stunning both in her beauty and her character.”