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March / April 2006:

The next top (jewish) model
Esti Mamo is nothing at all like what you might expect from an Israeli model. For on thing, she's black, a member of Israel's Falasha community of Ethiopian Jewry.

By Bradford R. Pilcher

Hot Israeli supermodel -- the description conjures up certain images of tanned brunettes with chiseled features and a look that says, "I'm trained with heavy weapons; don't try anything."

Naomi Campbell or Tyra Banks, arguably the most famous of black supermodels, is not what you might picture. Nevertheless, Esti Mamo is the latest fashion-clad sabra to come out of the Holy Land, and she looks more Naomi than Upper West Side JAP. The 24-year-old is a member of Israeli's Falasha community of Ethiopian Jews.

Born in a mud hut in eastern Ethiopia, she ended up in a southern Israeli slum where other Falasha live in poverty. Faced with bleak economic prospects and the ever-present discrimination that comes with their skin color, the Falasha don't have it easy. Mamo herself lost a brother to suicide.

"I have applied for jobs," Mamo told a British newspaper early last year. "When the employer hears my voice over the phone, there is no problem. But when I turn up for the interview with my black skin, suddenly the job is no longer available."

Not that Mamo will be applying for low-income work any longer. Discovered at age 15, she resisted overtures from modeling agents until she finished school. Since then, however, she's turned up on the covers of Israeli magazines and jumped to the pages of high fashion pubs Elle and Vogue.

Having overcome poverty in Africa, racism in Israel, and her own mother's trepidation at the thought of her little girl photographed in bikinis, Mamo hopes her own groundbreaking success can open doors for others in her community. "I was the first black face to be regarded as acceptable on the front pages of Israeli magazines," recalls Mamo. She's more than welcome in the pages of ours.

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