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Wednesday June 29th

Former Miss Israel visits Hillel

North Carolina Hillel, a proposed on-campus voting site, pictured Thursday.
Buy Photos North Carolina Hillel, a proposed on-campus voting site, pictured Thursday.

Former Miss Israel Titi Aynaw spoke to a group students at the UNC chapter of N.C. Hillel. Aynaw has been to many college and university campuses in the United States to speak about everything, from her time in the military to her conversation with Obama over dinner.

In addition to discussing her career as a model, the purpose of her conferences is to talk about her home country, Aynaw said.

“It’s because I believe people don't know the real Israel – they have angry, fake news about Israel,” Aynaw said.

Aynaw has faced discrimination, both in her collegiate tours and in the modeling industry. Last year, while attempting to speak at Columbia University, Aynaw's event was protested so strongly she could not enter the building. In the modeling world, she experienced other models not wanting to stand near her because her title was Miss Israel.  

She was born in Ethiopia in 1991, but both of her parents passed away when she was young. She and her brother moved to Israel in 2004.

“I remember when I got out from the plane, I saw all of these monster buildings and cars, and it was too modern for me because I came from a village,” Aynaw said. “I came from a place where I was never wearing shoes, and for me to see that was so weird.”

One of her biggest challenges in moving was that she did not speak a single word of Hebrew. For four hours every day, she taught herself the language. Through TV shows, music and many computer programs, Aynaw successfully learned the language, she said.

She joined Israel’s armed forces after finishing school.

“I wanted to see, you know, to learn new things, to challenge myself. So I joined the army. I joined the military police," Aynaw said.

Two weeks later, she became a commander. 

One of the attendees, Ariel Freedman, came to hear Aynaw speak because of her involvement with the military. 

“The fact that she spent three and a half years and wanted to become an officer, and wanted to spend more time in the army, and the experiences that she had, I loved hearing about,” Freedman said.

Leah Simon said she attended because of her interest in minority groups within Israel. 

“When I finished my service, I went back to Ethiopia to visit my mother’s grave," Aynaw said. "It was something that I never did deal with. I really, you know, I never had the chance to close this circle in my life. After the army experience, I feel really confident and strong, from the inside, enough to go and deal with that. When I came back from that trip, I came back a really different person. And I promised my mom that I would live my life in the best ways I can because she didn't have the same opportunities."

What Aynaw did not know was that an opportunity was waiting for her as soon as she went back to Israel. She and her best friend had an ongoing joke about Aynaw entering a beauty contest, and it was finally becoming a reality. 

“I got a message on my phone, and they said that I had an audition,” she said.

Her best friend had signed her up for the Miss Israel competition without telling her.

The experience was beyond what she Aynaw expected. She had no idea what she was getting into, but she was thankful for what came of it.

“It was great for the country also because afterwards I found myself doing interviews for BBC, CNN,” she said.

The win had given Aynaw a platform. It also gave her the opportunity to meet the president of the United States. When she got a call from the White House, she thought it was a joke.

“I couldn't believe it was him, and that Obama heard about me and invited me for dinner,” she said.

At the event, Obama congratulated Aynaw and said he was proud of her.

However, Aynaw’s career is not all fun and games. Modeling is not easy, she said. 

“Everyone thinks its so cool: you come, you do photoshoots and you see your face all over. No it's not, it's really hard work. And I would never recommend it for the girls that are younger than 17 because if you started to go to this work when you were like 14, 15, 13, it can really damage your mind. Girls need to be, the models need to be the most confident girls,” Aynaw said.

The key is to keep the mind and body clean, she said, and treat modeling as work.

“You need to be really strong from the inside,” she said.

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