EMINENT FRENCH Philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who is among the signatories to JCall, the European Jewish Call for Reason whose stated aim is to ensure the survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, will be in the country next week to participate in the Israel-France forum on “Democracy and Its Challenges.” Levy has come under considerable criticism since joining the European version of J Street, and will doubtless subject himself to further criticism while here.

One of several French intellectuals, journalists, filmmakers and politicians who are participating in the three-day forum which opens at the Suzanne Dallal Center in Tel Aviv on May 30, he will deliver the keynote address on the opening night and will participate in other sessions. He is the only participant who is listed to speak each day. The conference, touted as the first of its kind here, is an initiative of the French Embassy and is indicative of the enhanced and multifaceted role that France wants to play in the region, as well as the significant increase of French speakers in the country.

FRENCH AMBASSADOR Christophe Bigot, who is naturally involved in the Israel-France forum, has been busy in recent weeks with conferring honors or attending events in which his fellow countrymen were honored by local academic institutions. Last week, on behalf of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he conferred the Legion of Honor on businessman Joseph Ciechanover in the presence of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. A venture capitalist and entrepreneur, Ciechanover is a former director general of the Foreign Ministry, a former head of El Al and sits on the boards of directors of several major enterprises.

Ciechanover and Wiesel have a long-standing relationship, and Ciechanover is on the Board of Directors of Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity. Exactly five years ago, they were among 36 of the world’s leading thinkers in economics, medicine, physics and literature invited by King Abdullah II to attend a conference in Jordan. Wiesel also has a strong French connection in that after the Holocaust he found asylum in France, studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and later worked in France as a journalist before moving to the US in the late 1950s. In his early years in America, he continued to write in French.

Others attending the reception that Bigot hosted at his residence in Jaffa in honor of Ciechanover included the honoree’s brother, Nobel Prize laureate Aaron Ciechanover, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, retired Supreme Court presidents Meir Shamgar and Aharon Barak and former governor of the Bank of Israel Jacob Frenkel.

BRITISH CHIEF Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is coming here in mid-June to launch his new book and to lecture at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. His predecessor, Immanuel Jakobovits, was also a member of the House of Lords. British Jews have become somewhat blasé about prominent members of their community entering the House of Lords or, at the very least, joining the peerage. But not everyone is aware that the first British rabbi to receive a knighthood was Sir Hermann Gollancz who will be the subject of a lecture by Rabbi Raymond Apple to be delivered to the Jewish Historical Society of England’s Israel Branch at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai on May 30.

Apple, who has been living in Jerusalem since 2006, is chief rabbi emeritus of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, former senior Jewish chaplain to the Australian Defense Forces and president of the Australian Council of Christians and Jews. He is also an historian and a past president of the Australian Jewish Historical Society. It is in this context that he will speak on “Hermann Gollancz and the Title of Rabbi in British Jewry.”

Non-Brits may not realize that not all Jewish clergy in Britain are known as rabbi. Many have the title of reverend, which was distinctly the case during the Adler period (1845-1911). Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler was succeeded by his son Rabbi Hermann Adler. It was during this period that Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jewish Member of Parliament and Nathan Mayer Rothschild in 1858 became the first Jewish member of the House of Lords. Three years earlier, in 1855, Sir David Solomons became the first Jewish lord mayor of London. During the Adler period, Britain had only one rabbi – the Chief Rabbi – while other Jewish clergy were called reverend.

n APROPOS LORD Sacks, Rambam Medical Center friends from Great Britain and Israel came together at his home and that of Lady Elaine Sacks in the week prior to Shavuot and learned that Lord Sacks is the future patron of the Friends of Rambam in Great Britain. The chief rabbi and his wife opened their home for a BFR gathering that included Ambassador to England Ron Prosor, Sir Bernard and Lady Schreier, Dr. Ramy and Smadar Goldstein, Stanley Brodie, Neville Shulman and many others from the London Jewish community.

Among the Israeli contingent were chairman of the Rambam Board of Trustees and Friends of Rambam Eitan Wertheimer, director of Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation at Rambam Jacob Rowe, administrative director Dr. Esty Golan and her husband Shari Golan and director of public affairs and resource development Talia Zaks. BFR members who assisted in organizing the event included Anita Alexander-Passe, Leora Torn-Hibler, Malka Leon, Lior Hannes, Michael and Noga Komissar and Amir Levy. Addresses were delivered by Sacks, director of Rambam Health Care Center Rafi Beyar, Nobel Prize winner and Rambam researcher Aaron Ciechanover and others.

AFTER AN absence of more than eighteen months, Yehoram Gaon is finally returning to present his weekly comments on current affairs on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet. At the Israel Broadcasting Authority, they’re so happy to have him back that they’re running an exaggerated number of promos to announce that his broadcasts will resume at 1 p.m. this Friday.

THOUGH NOT much in the news these days, former MK and government minister Rabbi Michael Melchior continues to do much of what he was doing in those capacities and is considering a return to politics. However he will not throw in his cap with Labor as he did in the past, he says, and after a failed alliance with the Green Movement in the 2009 elections is unlikely to turn in that direction again.

Meanwhile, he will be the Jewish representative at an Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information panel discussion on “Bringing Religion to the Front Lines of Peace” at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem on June 2. The Christian speaker will be Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. The identity of the Muslim speaker has yet to be announced

THE ANNUAL Guardian of Zion Award ceremony and gala dinner of Bar-Ilan university’s Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies is always top heavy with dignitaries – and this year was no exception. In fact there may have even been more than in past years, because this year’s recipient Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, moves in so many circles that he knows just about every leading personality in the Jewish world. Some of the previous recipients were present, among them Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and multiple Oscar winning film producer Arthur Cohn, each of whom always makes a point of attending the event.

Among the other attendees at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem were Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, Kadima MK Dalia Itzik, Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, former justice minister Moshe Nissim, US Ambassador James Cunningham and Israel Museum director James Snyder. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent videotaped greetings in which he said he had known Hoenlein for some 30 years and spoke glowingly of him, calling him a defender of Israel and the Jewish people and an activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

Hoenlein began his address with a little light banter before getting into the serious stuff. He thanked Netanyahu for the commercial, said it was nice to hear his eulogy and to be able to walk away, and explained that the difference between a tribute and a eulogy is that in the case of a tribute there’s at least one person who believes everything that’s being said.

ONE WOULD think that two major institutes whose curriculum includes fashion design would coordinate major events so that there would be no competitive clash for attendance. But the annual gala of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, the alma mater of some of the country’s leading fashion designers, including international prize winning designer Alber Elbaz, who is the chief designer for Lanvin, is on the same date as the opening of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Festival of Film, Fashion and Philosophy that is being conducted in cooperation with the Goethe Institute of Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the Romain Gary French Cultural Center.

Both events are scheduled for tomorrow, though the one in Jerusalem is a three-day affair in which fashion designers, media theorists, artists, scholars and style bloggers from here and abroad will examine the interrelationship between fashion, philosophy and media. The festival includes a fashion show, fashion oriented films, panel discussions, lectures, exhibitions and parties. Among the films to be screened will be Fashion and People dealing with Orthodox apparel, IDF garb and other facets of Israeli fashion. Ruth Dayan, who founded the now defunct Maskit, which did so much for Israel’s fashion image, will receive a lifetime achievement award in recognition of her contribution to local fashion and the empowerment of women here. Next week, the Haifa-born Dayan, who has initiated so many social, cultural and traditional ethnic projects, will also receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa.

The Shenkar gala will be the swan song for controversial President Amotz Weinberg, who after 16 years in office is handing over the baton to former MK and government minister Yuli Tamir.

THANKS TO a collaborative effort by Tishkofet, the Cameri Theater, the Haifa Municipal Theater and Matar, the local publishers of celebrated American author Mitch Albom, the wheels were set in motion for Albom’s visit, where he gave one of his patented talks at a benefit for the organization at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. Tishkofet cofounder Dr. Ben Corn had the opportunity to hear Albom speak about his new book Have a Little Faith soon after its release last year in New York City.

“My 82-year-old mother invited me to attend a lecture by Mitch at the 92nd Street Y, and I couldn’t refuse,” said Corn, chairman of Radiation Oncology at Tel Aviv Medical Center-Ichilov Hospital, and along with his wife Dvora, codirector of Tishkofet/Life’s Door, a national, Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization that provides support to patients with life-threatening illnesses, as well as to their doctors and families.

“At the end of the talk, which was very stimulating, there was a long line of people with books they were getting Mitch to sign. We were the last ones and we started talking to him, and I told him about Tishkofet and our work and I raised the idea of his coming to Israel. He was helpful from the start.”

Corn added that in his position at Ichilov Hospital, he requires all of his students and interns to read Albom’s best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie, just as he would have them read Grey’s Anatomy. “And I test them on it, as well – not on whether they’ve read it, but to see if they were able to internalize the principles stated in the book.”

USUALLY HE’S the oldest person in the room or at a particular event, but President Shimon Peres, who turns 87 in August, found himself to be a spring chicken in comparison to Lotek Etzion, a member of Kibbutz Merhavia, when he joined in the celebrations on Monday evening of 100 years of settlement in the Jezreel Valley. Peres was also outranked in age by Ruth Dayan, 93, and still going strong and driving her own car. The two spent time together, viewing some of the historic exhibits. Peres also met with people older than he is when he visited Kibbutz Deganya when it celebrated its 100th anniversary a month and a half ago.

An ex-kibbutznik himself, Peres always enjoys these confrontations with his past, even when it’s not his own kibbutz that he's visiting. Addressing some 2,500 people who had gathered on the lawns of the kibbutz, Peres said that the celebration was not only that of the Jezreel Valley, but a milestone in Jewish history. The nostalgia was enhanced by singer Esther Ofarim, who has been living in Germany for many years, but who came home to sing some of her best known hits.

THE LONG arm of coincidence can stretch across the years in the strangest way. Australian expatriates Shmuel and Sara Klein, long before they actually made aliya 18 years ago, had many years earlier come here independently of each other and it was here that they decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They married in 1968. The officiating rabbi was She’ar-Yashuv Cohen, who later became chief rabbi of Haifa.

A native Jerusalemite who fought in the War of Independence, defending Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc, Cohen was severely wounded in battle in the Old City, and was taken captive by the Arab Legion of the Jordanian army. He was transferred to Amman where he became a leader of the prisoners of war. Following his repatriation, he continued to serve in the IDF for seven years, holding senior positions in the Chaplaincy Corps, including chief rabbi of the air force. Cohen likes to come back to Jerusalem as often as possible and on the Shabbat prior to Jerusalem Day, attended services at the Great Synagogue, where at the monthly Friday night dinner for lone soldiers, he shared some of his experiences before, during and after the War of Independence. He stayed on in Jerusalem after Shabbat so that he could be there for Jerusalem Day, and with his wife Naomi, went to the Tower of David to convey his greetings to Mayor Nir Barkat.

The Kleins happened to be at the Tower of David at the same time. They would have been overjoyed to see the Cohens at any time – but especially on this particular day, because it happened to be their wedding anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar. According to the Gregorian calendar, it was last Thursday.

JOURNALISTS WITH a loyal readership are frequently urged to write books about the people they’ve met and the places they’ve been. Steve Kramer, the Alfei Menashe-based Israel correspondent for the Jewish Times of South Jersey, has taken up the challenge not once, but twice. His first book Meandering through Israel took readers to places both familiar and off the beaten track. Now, he’s come up with a more in-depth sequel Encountering Israel – Geography, History, Culture. Kramer says that his new volume is intended for armchair travelers including those who live here, but don’t necessarily stray far from home. It’s also for travelers who have been here and those who intend to visit.