In Washington last week, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger was among the dignitaries at the White House who witnessed President Barack Obama’s conferment of the Medal of Freedom on Israel’s President Shimon Peres.

On Tuesday night in Jerusalem, Peres, 88, will confer on Kissinger, 89, the Presidential Award of Distinction at the opening of the 4th Israeli Presidential Conference, “Facing Tomorrow.”

Peres thought that the time was ripe for Israel to emulate other countries that honor individuals and organizations for unique and exceptional service to society and the world at large.

Last year, he appointed a distinguished advisory panel of leading figures from different fields of endeavor to review recommendations for the award and to suggest a limited number of potential recipients, leaving the final choice to him.

Altogether there were six honorees, four of whom were honored on Monday in a ceremony at the President’s Residence.

Kissinger was not among them because he had not yet arrived in Israel. He is due to fly in Tuesday for a four-hour visit, meaning that he will attend the opening ceremony of the conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma) and head straight back to the airport.

Zubin Mehta, the legendary conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, was also listed among the honorees, but was unable to be in Israel this week and will receive his medal at a later date.

The four other recipients of what is intended as an annual tradition are Hubert Leven, president of the Rashi Foundation, which is dedicated to strengthening Israeli society by providing opportunities for young people from underprivileged communities to realize their potential: Judy Feld Carr, a Canadian musician whose covert actions three decades ago enabled more than 3,000 Jews to get out of Syria; Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who established numerous educational institutions and made the Talmud accessible to students throughout the world; and Ory Slonim, who for 27 years has worked in a voluntary capacity on behalf of captured Israeli soldiers and soldiers missing in action, in addition to which as president of Variety, he is an energetic and tireless activist on behalf of children with special needs.

Peres, looking momentarily toward the honorees who were grouped behind him on the dais, said that what was most difficult in selecting the recipients was that the advisory panel had to deal with contemporary Israel, which is 64 years old, and the history of ancient Israel, which goes back 3,000 years. The six honorees collectively represented heroism, wisdom and justice, which are all integral to Jewish history, he said.

The Rashi Foundation has made a tremendous contribution to Israel, by giving young people horizons of hope, and by rescuing them from ignorance and poverty, he said.

Peres said Feld Carr’s actions helped to maintain Syrian Jews both physically and spiritually.

“We can see how difficult it is today to rescue Syrians from Syria,” he said. “Rescuing Jews from Syria was much more difficult.”

Peres underscored the efforts Slonim made to ensure that every captive soldier and every soldier missing in action would not be forgotten. He also praised Slonim’s concern for the welfare of children with special needs.

Turning toward the honorees, Peres said it was a privilege to express appreciation on behalf of the nation for their exceptional contributions to the State of Israel, to humanity and to repairing the world.

Peres was only the third oldest person in the room. The oldest was Ralph Goldman, still spry at 97, who is best known for his long association with the Joint Distribution Committee. Next was Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, 91, still a straight backed, brisk walker who has no use for a cane.

Among the numerous dignitaries attending the opening of Facing Tomorrow will be former British prime minister and current Quartet representative Tony Blair; Ziad Abu Zayyad, co-editor of the Israel-Palestine Journal; Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy, former Mossad chiefs; Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF chief of staff; Uzi Arad, former head of the National Security Council; Prof. Peter Beinart (the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel has written to Peres to protest Beinart’s inclusion on the grounds of his call for a boycott of Israeli goods produced in the West Bank); Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator; Dr. Ruth Westheimer; Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharanksy; and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

A Facebook Page from the conference will enable people from around the world to have what organizers term an interactive conversation with Peres about many topics. There is a list of topics, from which a Net surfer can choose and then the surfer sits and listens as Peres talks about the selected subject.

On Tuesday night, Peres will discuss with Blair and Kissinger the key foreign relations and security challenges facing the Middle East and the world.

On Wednesday, he will join a plenary discussion on “What’s New in New Media” moderated by Dr. Yossi Vardi, alongside John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, Julius Genachowski; chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission; Stephane Richard, chairman and CEO of France Telecom Group; and Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of the Publicis Groupe SA. Later in the day, Peres and Chambers will jointly announce the expansion of the Maan-tech Project for employment in the Arab sector. In the evening Peres will conduct a working meeting with the president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, a guest at the conference.

On Thursday, Peres will join Nobel Prize Economics laureate Prof. Daniel Kahneman, Dr. David B. Agus, Prof. Michael Sandel and Dr. James Sebenius in a discussion on “Learning from Mistakes on the Way to Tomorrow,” after which he will conduct a discussion with 40 international bloggers who have come to cover the conference.

On Thursday evening Peres will deliver a speech at the closing plenary of the conference under the title “Decisions at the Doorstep of Tomorrow.”

There will also be a panel discussion between Peres, Prime Binyamin Minister Netanyahu, Sharansky and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Immediately after the conference, Peres will start preparing for the visit next week by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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