Peace on Earth, good will to mankind is the essence of Christmas time, but for two people from West Los Angeles it is the principle by which they live.
Liz Cohen and Ronny Barkay met on Christmas in 1980 at a potluck dinner. Four years later, on Dec. 25, Cohen and Barkay mailed 178 letters to the heads of state of 150 countries announcing their forthcoming marriage and their belief that two people "can live in harmony and peace and that this idea of caring and living together can be expanded to the world at large. It is our intention to encourage the concept that the way each of us leads our lives has an impact on the entire world. We believe that each of us is important in influencing history and the future."
Requested a Letter
They requested from each leader a short letter explaining their "thoughts or plans for peace in the world," a small flag and a recipe for a representative wedding dish.
They agreed they wanted to base their marriage on peace and share their ideas with the rest of the world. They had looked for each other for more than 40 years and brought with them the hard lessons of unsuccessful marriages. They said they learned to express their feelings, understand each other and accept one another as they were and felt these principles should be applied to countries as well.
"Mutual respect is as important to nations as to people," Barkay said.
"We really believe that the first essential in peace," Cohen said, "is for people to understand the other person, to see things from their eyes. Without some understanding from the other viewpoint, there isn't a meeting ground. And that's what I see going on in the world."
Barkay, a tour operator, has lived in Belgium, Chile, Israel and in several cities in the United States and has assimilated the cultures of those societies into his life. He has traveled extensively throughout the world and learned about other peoples and this has influenced his philosophies.
"We shared our joy with our friends," said Cohen, an escrow officer, "and urged them to make the attitude of the world more peaceful--less hostile, less antagonistic."
The replies from the world leaders ranged from a picture post card of the Royal Family of Monaco to congratulations on their marriage with accompanying brochures on the country's history and culture from Switzerland. Many were amusing, some were very serious but all were touching as they signified that those leaders cared enough to respond.
President Rauf Denktash of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus extended his "heartfelt felicitations and best wishes for a successful and prosperous life in happy matrimony."
From the office of Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba came the message, "Very much appreciate your initiative concerning peace in the world. No concern is ever as great as that which has to do with Tunisia's contribution to the establishment of peace."
'Ideas on Peace'
President Julio Sanguinetti of Uruguay personally wrote: "You ask me about my ideas on peace in the world, I will try to condense them to one word: Man. I applaud your peace vocation, your faith in the world, your intentions for the future. Don't forget, however, as you put this peaceful spirit over everything else, that peace is won through love, while war happens when there is a lack of love." He also included a recipe for carne asado (grilled meat) and its history.
But the most beautiful letter was written in both Spanish and English by President Belisario Betancur of Colombia, since he expressed those feelings shared too by Cohen and Barkay. It began "Dear friends," and continued:
"I am obsessed with peace; I search for it through all legitimate means, I want it for my fellow citizens and for all members of mankind. Peace begins with a clear conscience before our God, no matter what our religious beliefs may be. It is peace with oneself. It is what we could call our personal or individual peace which, enveloped in respect, is shared at home bringing out love in our children. Families should be sanctuaries of respect and harmony, as they are the foundations of all nations and of all liberties. What is a nation but the whole of its families? Only those men who are born and are brought up in an environment of respect and harmony are capable of understanding their neighbors, of looking for peaceful solutions to common problems and of acting in good faith. If we intend to undertake the deeper task of attaining peace among men, we should strive to find family stability, and respect for the values of each member of the family. Only in this manner shall we have a healthy society, respectful of its own and capable of reaching out, starting with the small communities, and going as far as the highest international forums. I should like to ask you to make of your home an example for all the families of your nation, and a place of peace and hope for all the families on Earth. Your sincere friend."