Israel’s first Ethiopian-born beauty queen Yityish Titi Aynaw made an emotional return trip this week to her native homeland, to accompany extended members of her family on their aliyah journey to Israel.
Aynaw, 21, from Netanya, was chosen Miss Israel 2013 in February. She had left Ethiopia with members of her immediate family at age 10.
“Coming back is very emotional. I grew up here but left behind my loved ones. It’s very hard,” she said to a TV crew from Channel 2, which accompanied her on the trip.
Once in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian passersby greeted the beauty queen with calls of “congratulations, Miss Israel.” At the market, onlookers commended her for meeting US President Barack Obama in March and told her she put Ethiopia on the map.
She responded graciously in Amharic, aware that she was standing out with her pink dress and high heels.
“Since I arrived in Israel over 10 years ago, I didn’t speak about the country I came from. It’s like I forgot everything,” Aynaw said, looking around for places and things that would jolt her memory.
She traveled to the house she grew up in, with mixed feelings; curious to see it but filled with emotion over her mother’s passing in that very home.
“I didn’t completely deal with my mother’s death. I didn’t talk about it. I was afraid to say the word mom. I was afraid people would feel sorry for me and it’s not something I wanted,” she said.
On a trip to Gondar to visit her mother’s resting place, as well as the Jewish Agency’s transit camp, Aynaw finally broke down.
The graveyard, she said, is filled with people whose only wish was to go live in Israel.
At the transit camp, she greeted some of the Ethiopians who were waiting to join their families in Israel — including one of her uncles and his family.
“I saw myself as a little girl at the center, and it broke me. My life is unquestionably better now. They don’t have what I have — all they have is hope. These people have been waiting and the only thing they hold on to is the hope,” she said.
“I have a Cinderella story, but there was no prince who came along to save me. You have to work hard for success,” she concluded.