This post was written by Vered Cohen Barzilay. Ms. Vered Cohen-Barzilay is an Israeli social entrepreneur, a women’s rights activist, and an advocate for aviation, space, and science education. Her latest project is “Out of the Box”’ which seeks to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through space education and entrepreneurship.
To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has been introducing 80 Faces of Exchange this year. These profiles of IVLP alumni have showcased participants from around the world and across the 80 years of the program.
In a reflection that spans generational and geographical boundaries, Vered Cohen-Barzilay, a 2016 alumna of a Meridian administered IVLP on Media Literacy: Promoting Civil Society Through New Media, offers her thoughts on finding herself on the same list as former Egyptian President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Anwar Sadat. Sadat participated in the IVLP in 1966 when he was the President of the Egyptian National Assembly.
Sometimes people in my social circle make jokes and say I’m like Forrest Gump. Somehow, I find myself in situations where I need to rub my eyes to believe: Standing on stage with Bono (U2) in a concert in Paris, lecturing on human rights literature in front of professors at Oxford University, eating lunch with a Cambodian princess, sitting in the conference room in NASA with the director and chief scientist, and more. But this most recent example left my jaw on the floor.
I wrote in the past that I was chosen by the U.S. State Department for the list of the Faces of Exchange from among the hundreds of thousands of leaders who have participated in the prestigious IVLP program in the 80 years it has existed. Together we were chosen to represent the importance and amazing impact of this program over the years and around the world. My name was published right at the beginning when they launched this program and with me were Jacinda Ardern, the admirable New Zealand Prime Minister and Margaret Thatcher, the U.K.’s Iron Lady.
This list is constantly updated (until all are revealed) and this week the name of none other than Anwar Sadat has been published. Now, I feel a huge respect for every one chosen on the list, but to be with Sadat on the same list – it’s truly an extraordinary honor.
I still remember as a little girl in Tel Aviv, how we went out to celebrate in Kings of Israel Square (today Rabin Square) with a special flag to wave. On the one side was the Israeli flag and on the other, the Egyptian flag.
Sadat and Menachim Begin were and are still known in the historical consciousness as heroes. They are both former enemies, heads of countries with a war and a bloody past, but they chose the path of peace over the war. They showed us that there is another way that an enemy can become a loved one.
It’s been many years since that peace agreement, and I’ve written often about the post-traumatic stress that still accompanies me from my days as a police reporter and the many terrorism arenas I have visited and witnessed. Nevertheless, I always believed that the path of peace is better than the path of war. There is no doubt that this is a harder task. For some reason it’s easier to connect to concepts like an eye for an eye; they get into fights more easily and slide into violence too quickly.
Peace requires courage. It demands deep introspection and especially the ability to see the public good over the personal good or your own ego. War brings a clear and fast ruling; peace is slow and is like seeds that sprout over time.
Sadat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. Forty-two years later, and the world is in a great storm. Israel is divided like it’s never been before. Inner peace has become an unfulfilled fantasy. On the other hand, the doors of the Arab world open, the new Middle East dream can still exist, and we’ve already seen the buds of change bloom.
I choose to hold on to hope; to imagine the day when we go out to the streets hugging and holding each other’s flags of peace. Meanwhile, I am filling up on pride at being on such a meaningful and extraordinary list alongside Anwar Sadat. I promise to continue and act for a positive change in my country, in the world, on earth and outer space.
To the moon and beyond!