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Jerusalem Model Wins Miss Israel Pageant, But Can She Conquer the World?

Rotem Rabi, 21, crowned Miss Israel 2017

Jonathan Zalman
May 12, 2017
Rotem Rabi.Facebook

A new Miss Israel has been crowned, a Millennial model from Jerusalem named Rotem Rabi whose win is being covered as a social media victory because online voting factored in the decision. And kudos to her: Instagram (and Facebook) is the name of the game, and she does this well, I’m told, enough to beat out 15 other contestant to take the title. Next: the Worlds in China in December. No Israeli has won since Linor Abargil in 1998.

According to JTA, which cites Rabi’s Hebrew-language bio, “she served as a medic in the Israeli Air Force and has worked as a model while starting the process to join the Israel Police’s investigative division. She dropped out of the Miss Israel contest last year to accept a modeling contract in Milan.”

Rotem Rabi after being crown Miss Israel 2017 on Tuesday. (Facebook)

Rotem Rabi after being crown Miss Israel 2017 on Tuesday. (Facebook)

The timing of her win is interesting in one sense because Gal Gadot, Miss Israel 2004, has become a veritable Hollywood star. Her upcoming solo flick, Wonder Woman, should made oodles of cash, regardless of how good or bad it is. Perhaps Rabi’s star will rise still.

Rabi’s victory reminds me of a fantastic article by Daniel Estrin about the outspoken Ethiopian-born Yityish “Titi” Aynaw, “Israel’s Bold New Queen,” who won the competition in 2013. (Notably, the Miss Israel contest has been held every year since 1950). In it, Estrin details Aynaw’s long “Cinderella” journey to Israel.

Born in a small township near Gondar in northwest Ethiopia, she was orphaned by age 10. Her father died a year after she was born—she never found out how—and a decade later her mother died of a sudden illness. Her mother’s parents, who had already uprooted to Israel in 2000, arranged for her and her brother to move, too.

Aynaw grew up like many Ethiopian Jews, dreaming of going to Israel. “I was told this was the land of milk and honey,” she said, laughing. “That I’d go on the street, bend down, and pick up golden coins. I’d open the faucet and milk would pour out.”

In March 2003, Aynaw and her brother flew via Kenya to Israel. Her grandparents, whom she had hardly remembered, brought them to their hardscrabble immigrant neighborhood in the seaside town of Netanya. Without knowing a word of Hebrew, she was shuffled off to a religious Jewish boarding school in Haifa catering to new immigrants. Today her Hebrew is accentless and expressive. “They threw me into the deep water. But that’s how you learn to swim the best,” she said.

Read the rest of Estrin’s piece here, and congratulations to Rotem Rabi.

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.