For the first time since anyone could remember, distinguished writer and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel was absent from the annual Guardian of Zion Award dinner at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.

At this dinner, the award recipient in any given year delivers an address under the auspices of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies and is presented with the award by Ingeborg Rennert herself, who with her husband, Ira, established the Center at Bar-Ilan University in 1995.

Wiesel was the first recipient of the Guardian of Zion Award, which was inaugurated in 1997, and until this year, attended every award ceremony. Another regular attendee has been filmmaker and writer Arthur Cohn, who received the award in 2004 and was present, as were other recent recipients, including former UN ambassador Dore Gold, the 2011 awardee; and Israel Museum director James Snyder, who received the award last year.

Author and columnist Norman Podhoretz, who received the award in 2007, was represented by his daughter, journalist Ruthie Blum, who lives in Israel.

This year’s recipient was Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, whose inspiring address included a reference to his great-grandfather Rabbi Aryeh Lev Frumkin, a member of the movement for the encouragement of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, who made aliya from Lithuania in 1871, was one of the founders of Petah Tikva and built the first house there. Curiously, most of Frumkin’s progeny did not stay in Israel but found fame and fortune in England, where not only Sacks but other members of the family have achieved great distinction.

Sacks frequently introduces a note of humor into his speeches, and did so early in the piece, when he said he was so moved and humbled by the honor he had been left almost speechless; he then added that no rabbi is ever left quite speechless. Continuing his remarks, he said of the medal he had received as part of the award, that it was his first medal since the one he had received from Queen Elizabeth II. Whether he was putting Ingeborg Rennert on the same pedestal as Her Majesty, or whether he was simply preening, is a matter of conjecture.

All things considered, he’s entitled.

As always, the event was moderated by IRC director Prof. Joshua Schwartz, with one relatively new face making an appearance on the podium: that of Bar-Ilan University president Rabbi Prof.

Daniel Herschkowitz, who was appointed just over a year ago. He succeeded internationally recognized physicist Prof. Moshe Kaveh, whose academic life had been bound up with BIU, where he obtained his bachelors and master’s degrees and served in senior faculty positions prior to taking up the presidency in 1996.

Kaveh, who had been a constant presence at Guardian of Zion Award ceremonies, resigned in February 2013.

Herschkowitz, like Kaveh, represents the marriage between Torah and science. In his address, he observed how sparsely the country had been developed at the time of the establishment of the state. Yet only three years after the gates of the concentration camps opened, Jews came back from death to life – his own parents among them. Jews rose from the ashes, he said, only to be surrounded by millions who wanted to eliminate the Jewish entity.

“Against all odds, we survived to become a center of Torah, science and technology,” Herschkowitz declared, saying the only rational explanation was that it was a miracle.

Sacks is the second British recipient of the award after noted historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who received it in 2000.

Within the context of his address, Sacks spoke of the importance of faith, and in a humorous self-deprecating anecdote related that he and his wife, Elaine, had come to Israel with their children in the middle of the Gulf War.

Bearded men had been asked to shave so they could wear gas masks when necessary. Sacks duly complied, but when he went out into the street, he saw that other men had not shaved their beards.

During his current visit to Israel, Sacks has had enormous exposure at gatherings in different parts of the country, speaking at public forums that included a mix of religious and secular people, and of course in several synagogues. And it isn’t over yet: Tomorrow he is scheduled to speak at Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael congregation.

■ ONE CANNOT mention Sir Gilbert without noting that he is the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, whose name has returned to the headlines in recent days – partly because of the death last week of Lady Mary Soames, the last and youngest of his five children, who passed away at the age of 91; but more so because today, June 6, is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy by allied forces that included British troops.

Churchill was prime minister of England from May 1940 to July 1945, and again from October 1951 until April 1955. Immediately prior to his first term as prime minister, on September 3, 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the War Cabinet – as he had been for the first part of World War I. He had wanted to accompany British troops to Normandy but had been ordered by King George VI not to go, because while the commander of the operation was replaceable, Churchill was not. However, he did go to Normandy a few days later.

Today, there will be a special memorial ceremony in Normandy with the participation of 20 world leaders. British Ambassador Matthew Gould constantly says that relations between the UK and Israel have never been better. To some extent, this may be illustrated by a recent tour of the Churchill War Rooms in London given to Israeli military correspondents, conducted in Hebrew.

June 6 is also the 32nd anniversary of what was euphemistically called Operation Peace for the Galilee (the First Lebanon War); and on a different note, the 164th anniversary of the production of the first pair of jeans by Levi Strauss.

Tomorrow, June 7, is the 47th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the day on which Israeli paratroopers during the Six Day War advanced through the Old City towards the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, where their commander, Lt.-Gen. Motta Gur, jubilantly declared “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” Curiously, the date falls only a day before President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are due to be in Rome at the invitation of Pope Francis, to join him in a prayer for peace in the Middle East. The pope will meet with the two leaders prior to the prayer session, which will be attended by spiritual representatives of all three faiths as well as Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

At his general audience last week, the pope referred to Peres and Abbas as peacemakers.

Churches throughout Italy will also have special peace services in solidarity with the Vatican.

Although there are rumors emanating from Rome that the meeting was coordinated with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is a practicing Catholic, the pope has emphasized that this should not be perceived as an attempt at political mediation, but is simply a prayer meeting.

While in Italy, Peres will also meet with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who is a friend of long standing, as well as with recently elected Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who at 39 is not only the youngest prime minister in Italy’s history, but also young enough to be Peres’s grandson.

Peres will celebrate his 91st birthday in August, exactly a week after he leaves office.

■ ALL THAT was missing from the Diplomatic Spouses Club Israel (DSCI) charity gala fund-raiser at the residence of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, was a red carpet – although all of the 300-plus guests, comprising diplomats, the media, film directors, producers, hospital executives, founding mothers and capital financiers, were given red carpet treatment.

The event, a special screening of Rama Burshtein’s award-winning film Fill the Void, helped raise more than NIS 57,000 for the Lady Sarah Cohen Unit for Family-Centered Therapy and Healthcare at Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel, which supports families of chronically ill children as well as families of child victims of terror. Burshtein, who conceived, scripted and directed the film, was there with her husband, Aharon, and the film’s producer, Assaf Amir.

For many of those in the audience, this was a first-time glimpse into the haredi lifestyle, and because the film has qualities of a documentary despite being a feature, wanted to know afterwards if the actors were all haredi. Burshtein, who is herself haredi but with a broad, realistic outlook on life, laughed and said that only two members of the cast were ultra-Orthodox, and that in fact the handsome Yiftach Klein, who plays the young widower Yochay – for whom everyone wants to find a bride and mother for his baby son – is in real life a homosexual, and actually became interested in religious observance after appearing in the film. There were also people in the audience who had seen the film not only once but two to three times before, who told Burshtein they would never tire of seeing it again and again.

Burshtein has been going around the country doing these semi-private screenings, interacting afterwards with the audience.

She loves doing this, she said, because she is basically a storyteller, and audience reaction helps her build up different stories. She could not say when she will be making her next film or what it will be about, but assured everyone there is definitely another one in the offing.

Among those in attendance were the founding and current directors of the Lady Sarah Cohen clinic, Dr. Cynthia Carel and Chava Cohen, respectively, as well as Schneider director Prof.

Joseph Press, who addressed the audience and presented a certificate of appreciation to Lady Sarah’s great-granddaughter Joanna Landau, the founding donor of the clinic. Landau joined forces with Carel and provided the necessary capital to establish the clinic.

A lawyer by profession, Landau is the founder and executive director of Kinetis, an apolitical grassroots nonprofit that promotes recognition of Israel. She came to the event with her mother, Linda Streit, and grandmother Dame Shirley Porter, who is the daughter and heir of Sir Jack Porter, the founder of the Tesco supermarkets empire. The family has a long tradition of philanthropy.

Each year, DSCI members nominate and select an organization or community project to which they lend financial support. This year, gala chairwoman Maria Kuglitsch nominated the Lady Sarah Cohen Unit, and members agreed with overwhelming enthusiasm. In the past, DSCI has raised funds for the Jezreel Valley Center for the Arts, Budo for Peace, Middle East Education Through Technology, LO Combat Violence Against Women, the Dror Association, Beit Issie Shapiro and others. The Lady Sarah Cohen family clinic is believed to be the only one of its kind in Israel.

DSCI is a means of demonstrating that contrary to the dire predictions of political pundits, Israel is not alone. Accordingly, the members of its charity committee included: chairwoman Kuglitsch, Austria; Jean Murphy, Denmark; Ceciel Huls, Netherlands; Celia Gould, UK; Siobhan Tracey, Ireland; Rita Cohen, EU; Jane Smith, Canada; Susan Dilles, Mary Knight, Julie Fisher and co-president Eden Goldberger, all of the US; Ed Stachow and co-president Rachel Lord, both of Australia; Swati Jha, India; Lanre Obasa, Nigeria; Hideko Sato, Japan; Kamolrat Boon- Long, Thailand; and Johanna Stegen, Chile.

■ AMBASSADORS AND consuls- general who host receptions in celebration of the national day of any country try to do so on the actual date, but this does not always work if the actual date falls on a weekend, and thus the reception is moved to a more convenient date. Fortunately for the Italians, June 2, the date of Italy’s Republic Day, fell on a Monday, which enabled a concerted effort by 123 Italian embassies, 48 consulates- general and nine permanent representations around the world to undertake a more or less simultaneous global promotion of Expo Milano 2015, the theme of which is “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life.”

Here again was another example of Israel not being isolated in the world. Italy and Israel cooperate on many projects, not least of which is “Greening the World: Innovative Technologies for Agriculture,” which is incorporated in the Expo Milano theme. Expo commissioner Giuseppe Sala came to Israel specially for the occasion, a factor which in itself indicates the close ties between the two countries.

Sala chose to come to Israel to personally introduce the expo concept to the hundreds of guests gathered on the spacious lawns of the Ramat Gan residence of Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo. Israeli fashion model, actress and television hostess Moran Atias, who became a household name in Italy and is currently enhancing her career in Hollywood, came home for the occasion.

Italian Science Minister Stefania Giannini was also in Israel this week to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Yaakov Peri; there were also other high-level guests from Italy.

greerfc@gmail.com

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