Tiki Barber has returned to Israel.
Twelve years ago, Barber, then a star running back for the New York Giants, was enjoying a nice dinner in Manhattan when Shimon Peres, entered the restaurant.
“It was very random,” recalled Barber. “He and an entourage of folks walked in and I thought this must be somebody important because all the security he has with him.”
About an hour later, someone from Peres’s entourage approached Barber, a Super Bowl competitor, and asked him if he wanted to meet the former Israeli president and prime minister, who died last September.
“I went over to his table and the first thing he said to me was, ‘My people tell me you are the best.'”
Barber was thrilled.
After talking about life and sports for 10 minutes, Barber recalled, he was invited to Israel to visit schools that pair together Palestinian and Israeli kids in sporting events. Barber happily accepted the invite and a few months later, he went to in Israel for the first time. He spent 12 days there.
The highlight of his trip was a meeting with Shimon Peres, said Barber, who is now retired.
“We met…in his office and it was like I was a visiting diplomat. I was sitting there looking at myself thinking, What the heck am I doing here? People were taking pictures and we were having a stage photo. It was really an unbelievable experience I will never forget.”
Barber said he was deeply saddened by Peres’s recent death. “He went from being a hawk to a dove and really working towards finding a solution for peace,” he said.
A week and a half ago, Tiki Barber returned to Israel for his second visit as a guest of the Israel Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Marathon, which was held on March 17.
He explained to me that he had decided to return to Israel because he had felt it was a chance for him to promote Culture City, an autism organization with which he is involved. It was also an opportunity to run a marathon in a different part of the world. And, of course, he also wanted to see how things had changed since he had first arrived more than a decade ago.
Over the last few years Barber has developed a passion for running marathons — he completed the New York City marathon in 2014 for CC Sabathia’s foundation — and loves that he can push himself to physical extremes. The Jerusalem Marathon offered him a particular challenge because of the hills he repeatedly described as “punishing.”
“When you go through the Old City, you haven’t hit the brutality of the hills that come after. You are still with it and your brain has not shut off completely and you realize you are running through history which makes it so compelling. At mile 10, I stopped at the top of a hill and took a picture. You are looking over the valley and you see the Dome of the Rock and its an amazing sight. Even though I was running a marathon, how could I not stop and take that picture?”
I asked Tiki if he would be interested in visiting Gaza or the West Bank.
“I would love to. But I have never been invited to do that. I think life is about relationships and experiences and when and if I made the right relationship to do that I will.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that Tiki Barber won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants. He did not. He participated in Super Bowl XXXV but lost the game to the Baltimore Ravens.