While diplomacy centering on America’s relations with Middle East countries was at the top of the agenda during his recent swing through parts of the Middle East, it was not all serious business for President Barack Obama.
The president received Israel’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Distinction, from Israeli President Shimon Peres during a State Dinner at Peres’ residence in Jerusalem.
At the dinner, Obama – the first black American president – also met Titi Yityish Aynaw, an Ethiopian immigrant who recently became the first black to win the Miss Israel crown.
Aynaw, who won the title on Feb. 27, told the judges, “It is 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 is important to show that to the world.”
She cited Martin Luther King Jr. as one of her heroes.
Ethiopian Jews are believed to be descended from the Israelite tribe of Dan and some 30 years ago Israel
began to airlift them to the Jewish state where they now number about 120,000.
They frequently complain about being discriminated against, according to the BBC. Some detractors, in fact, have called Aynaw “toffee queen,” a play on the Hebrew word “yoffee” meaning beauty queen.
Aynaw was born in Gondar in northwest Ethiopia. Her father died when she was 1 and her mother 10 years later. She was sent to live with her maternal grandparents, who had immigrated to Israel and whom she hardly knew.
She was sent to boarding school without knowing any Hebrew and, she said, some classmates made fun of her Ethiopian name, Yitayish. She decided to take part in the Miss Israel competition using that name which means “look” but she translates as “looking toward the future.”
. “I was born sick but my mom believed I had a future,” she said.
After winning the pageant crown, Aynaw was photographed for La Isha, Israel’s equivalent of Vogue magazine, only the second black Israeli to appear on the cover.
“That’s why I feel like I made history, that I blazed a trail,” she said. “An Ethiopian woman is on the cover of the magazine!”
She sees similarities in her life and that of Obama, whom she considers a role model.
“I was influenced and inspired by Obama,” she told the BBC. “Like him, I was also raised by my grandmother … and I also had to work very hard and long to achieve things in my life. To this day, he inspires me just as he inspires the rest of the world.”
“I’m the first black Miss Israel to be chosen and [Obama] is the first black American President. These go together,” she told the Jerusalem Post.
She was apparently impressed by the leader of the free world.
“He’s an exciting man, a world-class hunk, charming and an extraordinary gentleman,” she told the Israeli publication Yediot Aharonot.
“You are very beautiful,” Obama told her, according to one report. “And Michelle would have been very happy to be as tall as you are.”
Asked whether she was worried that the president’s wife would be “jealous” when he met her, she replied with a laugh, “No, I am not worried. She is a beautiful woman and she looks like a model, really… I don’t think she will be jealous.”