Two Israeli women win prestigious Rhodes scholarship

Anat Peled and Lev Cosijns are both delighted to have been awarded the highly prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

Anat Peled and Lev Cosijns, proud recipients of the Rhodes scholarship (photo credit: SUPPLIED)
Anat Peled and Lev Cosijns, proud recipients of the Rhodes scholarship
(photo credit: SUPPLIED)

Anat Peled is still overwhelmed by the recent announcement that she has won a Rhodes scholarship. Peled, 25, is a senior at Stanford University, and flew back to California from Israel just after the announcement.
“I feel very thankful for this opportunity, very excited, and very jet lagged,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s a pretty intense application process. I flew back to Israel for the interviews.”
Anat is currently studying history with a minor in symbolic systems, a special Stanford major that combines linguistics and technology. She is currently writing an honors thesis about Labor Zionism and the kibbutz.
“National myths tend to become frozen – we forget their context and the world these people lived in,” she said. “I’m fascinated by the founders of the kibbutz who were influenced by the mix between Zionism and socialism. They were concerned with the content of Jewish life in Israel, and it’s very inspiring.”
The Rhodes scholarship is considered by many to be the most prestigious scholarship in the world, is for two years of study at Oxford. Peled, an Israeli-American, says she hopes to do a master’s in intellectual history, meaning the history of ideas, and continue for a doctorate.
She says she chose to study in the US rather than at an Israeli university because she wanted a liberal arts education. In Israel, you are admitted directly to a professional school such as law or medicine. In the US, most people do a liberal arts degree and then specialize in graduate school. But Peled says she plans to return to Israel and establish her career t here.
“I see my future in Israel – my family is in Israel and my roots are there,” she said. “I’m hoping to be an academic teaching history in Israel to younger Israelis, but I don’t want to be only in the ivory tower. I am trying to understand the present and I like to write political analysis and op-eds.”
The other Rhodes scholar is Lev Cosijns, 26, who is currently studying archaeology at Bar Ilan University. Born in Japan, and raised mostly in England, she made aliyah eight years ago.
“I can’t believe it yet,” she said about the announcement. “I was really impressed they said my name right, and then I said, “Wow, they actually said my name!”
She plans to study archaeological science including subjects such as radioactive dating to find out the age of a specimen.
She is particularly excited about the international component of the Rhodes scholarship which brings together winners from around the world. She too, plans to live in Israel.
“I want to make people more aware of the complicated history of the country – not only the Jewish history but Muslim and Christian as well,” she said. “it is a confusing chaotic country but it’ special.”
While the Rhodes covers tuition and a stipend, both woman are also receiving a scholarship from Robin Hood Israel, an Israeli-based NGO that funds Israelis who want to do graduate work in the US. With tuition often topping $60,000, the cost is more than a full-year average Israeli salary.
Robin Hood Israel offers both scholarships and loans for Israeli students to study in the US or do to do the Rhodes program.
“We just don’t have enough funds for scholarships for all,” Gary Pickholz, the director of Robin Hood Israel said. “Scholarships range from $2000 a year to $20,000 a year and are based on financial need. We have over 40 superb candidates unfunded for 2020.”
Many of those students will be offered loans at better terms than they could get from Israeli banks.
Pickholz says that having more Israeli students studying in the US is the best way to bridge the growing gap between the US and Israel.
“The primary complaint of the Anglo-American Diaspora is that Israeli leadership has drifted away from them in values and perspective,” he said. “Nothing solves that problem faster, and definitively, than insuring Israel's future leaders from government to law, from business to medicine, are educated at our top universities before returning to Israel.”
He mentioned that CEO Oracle Larry Ellison, a former classmate of his at Columbia University recently donated $16.6 million dollars for Friends of the IDF (FIDF) for well-being facilities for mixed male-female combat units.”
“I sent him a note saying, “Larry, you’re a shmuck,” Pickholz said laughing. “If he would have just rounded down and given us the .6 million dollars, we could create scholarships for 60 top Israeli students.”
Ellison wrote back that it’s the first time he’s been called a shmuck for donating more than 16 million dollars but he said that Pickholz’s point is well-taken.
Robin Hood also helps young Israelis establish NGO’s. Lian Najami, 25, is currently doing a Rhodes scholarship, working towards a master’s degree in comparative social policy.
“It’s magical for me,” she said. “I’m speaking to you now outside the library in this very old building. You feel like you’re walking in a page of history.”
Before leaving for Oxford she and her husband, a researcher about climate change and the environment for the Scottish parliament, founded Peaceful Infusions, an NGO to empower Arab women to enter the job market.
She said the project was accepted into the Robin Hood accelerator Hayoreh, which will help her get funding, hire staff, and navigate the Israeli NGO landscape.