Meet Yityish Aynaw, the first-ever Miss Israel of Ethiopian descent. Crowned last February, Aynaw has gone from army officer to shoe store salesperson to fashion breakout within the span of a single year -- a trajectory that still has her reeling.
"I came to Israel ten years ago," Aynaw tells Pret-a-Reporter of immigrating from Ethiopia to live with her grandparents when she was 12. "I lost my parents when I was young, and my big brother and I went to Israel. I went into the army for three years, graduated from school, and then became the manager of a shoe store -- it’s funny!"
As she wraps her yearlong term as Miss Israel next month -- a period that's included dining with president Barack Obama in Jerusalem during his first visit to Israel, which Aynaw says "was unreal feeling, the most beautiful and exciting moment of the past year" -- she is also continuing her government studies while raising money for her own community center in Netanya.
"I've had a dream, since I was young, to do something for my neighborhood – I always noticed after school ends, the chilren have nowhere to go, and would end up doing some things they really don’t want to do," she said of the at-risk youth in the area. "Sometimes, when I came back from the army, I would take them running with me instead."
She's also jumpstarted her modeling career with a handful of gigs for Israeli designers. "I want to be international, and I want to be in Victoria’s Secret! That’s my dream," she says, attributing her transformed style to the obligations of the crown. "When you are a beauty queen, you need to be fresh and everything has to be perfect. Up until one or two months before then, I had spent years in a uniform. I’ve always liked fashion, but before, 'fashion' only meant special occasions and evening gowns to me. Now, I’ve learned about certain elegance and class in my style. I get to wear a host of clothes from different designers and change three times a day. But I like that!"
As she prepares to pass the crown onto the next Miss Israel in March, she's hoping the message of her historic victory continues to spread. "I think I won because it’s not only about beauty. Beauty queen or not, it’s about being yourself, believing in yourself and being special."