VERSATILE AND indefatigable singer Israel Parnes and his band have a standing Israel Independence Night engagement with Jerusalem's Great Synagogue, which traditionally has a gala dinner following its festive prayer service on the national holiday. The dinner is invariably sponsored by Rabbi David and Anita Fuld, and is enlivened not only by the music, but also by the presence of some 40 young soldiers, most of them from the former Soviet Union. A couple of years back, the board of the Great Synagogue decided to invite immigrant soldiers undergoing religious conversion to join members and friends of the congregation in celebrating the nation's birthday. Synagogue President Asher Schapiro, who is very good at giving credit where it's due, took a calculated risk when he went through a long list of names of those deserving recognition for their efforts both toward the success of the evening and the renaissance of the Great Synagogue. More people are coming to services, he said, and lectures are packed. He attributed this in no small measure to the synagogue's energetic director of activities, Rabbi George Finkelstein, to dinner chairman Sheldon Abramson and his wife Connie, and to Cantor Naftali Herstik, whose "beautiful services are the heart of the synagogue." Schapiro also noted the unflagging contributions of members of the Jaffe family, who have been associated with the synagogue since its founding and continue to perform important functions. The synagogue was born a quarter of a century ago by the late Maurice Jaffe. Fuld, a long-time sponsor of the Independence Night dinner, paid tribute to Finkelstein, with whom he went to high school. THE POLITICAL staying power of Vice Premier Shimon Peres is legendary, but for an octogenarian, Peres also has amazing physical stamina. In his capacity as acting Knesset Speaker, Peres spent the better part of Remembrance Day and Independence Day on his feet. On Independence Day itself, Peres started early in the morning at the annual presidential reception for veterans, former presidents, prime ministers, defense ministers and chiefs of general staff. Peres was not the only octogenarian at the event, where other attendees included War of Independence veterans such as former Mossad chief Meir Amit, former president Yitzhak Navon, and celebrated photographer and Israel Prize laureate David Rubinger, who has been photographing Israel's most important events since the state was established. That event was followed by a ceremony honoring 120 outstanding soldiers from all branches of the IDF, and for most of it Peres was able to sit down. In the late afternoon, he joined President Moshe Katsav and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in receiving the good wishes of the diplomatic community and local church heads, which meant that he was again on his feet for a very long time. In the evening, he was once again on his feet for the Israel Prize ceremony at the Jerusalem Theater. The presidential reception and awards ceremony provided a pleasant change for Peres, who is accustomed to being the oldest person present. At the Israel Prize awards, Peres embraced Life Achievement Award recipient Al Schwimmer, founder of Israel Aircraft Industries, who will celebrate his 89th birthday next month. Peres and Schwimmer are not only friends but former colleagues from way back. ABSENT FROM Israel Independence Day festivities was Israel's fourth president, Ephraim Katzir, who will celebrate his 90th birthday on May 16. Katzir, who headed the Department of Biophysics at the Weizmann Institute before his election to the presidency, has been awarded many prizes, including an Israel Prize in 1959. Though in failing health and confined to a wheelchair in recent years, Katzir has made it a point to attend all functions at Beit Hanassi to which he is invited, as well as other functions open to former Israeli presidents. He was too ill this year to attend the Independence Day events, and in all probability was conserving his energy for a huge birthday bash that has been organized for him in Rehovot. BRENNER PRIZE laureate and eighth-generation Jerusalemite Shifra Horn was joined by her companion, New Zealand dentist Peter Bolot, and several members of a group of kiwis at the home of prominent Jerusalem lawyers Yehuda and Tamar Raveh. Tamar Raveh is the daughter of Gideon Hausner, who served as Attorney General, as a cabinet minister and as the chairman of Yad Vashem. But he is best remembered as the prosecutor of Adolph Eichmann. "I'm proud to be my father's daughter," said Raveh. Horn, whose books have been translated into several languages, used to divide her time between Israel and New Zealand, but the resumption of her battle with cancer and a subsequent bone marrow transplant have prevented her for several months now from traveling abroad. Horn recalled that in her own youth she read enormous quantities of Holocaust literature given to her by her mother. The Holocaust continues to haunt her, she said, and is an undercurrent in all the books she has written. THE RAVEHS' penthouse offers breath-taking panoramic views on three sides. When the guests went out to the balcony, a pigeon flew inside, perched on the cornice, and refused to be coaxed back onto the balcony. The problem was solved by the tallest person in the room, lawyer and script writer Yechiel Gutman, who holds a current events discussion program with fellow legal eagles on Channel One. Gutman rolled up a sheet of newspaper, reached up and tickled the bird, which promptly took the hint and flew back outside. CELEBRATED SCHOLAR, Middle East Forum director and internationally syndicated columnist Dr. Daniel Pipes, whose byline regularly appears in The Jerusalem Post, New York Sun,and Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, is this year's Guardian of Zion laureate. He will receive the prestigious award from Bar-Ilan University's Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at a gala dinner at Jerusalem's King David Hotel on May 31. Pipes will deliver the annual Rennert Lecture before a distinguished audience of academics and politicians. The title of the lecture is "The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem." An American Harvard alumnus, Pipes spent six years studying outside the United States, including three in Egypt. He has taught at the University of Chicago, Harvard and the US Naval War College, and has served in various capacities in the US government. PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will soon appoint Israel's new ambassador to the United States, who will replace Danny Ayalon in July. Although leaders of the American Jewish community have praised Ayalon, a troubled relationship with former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom combined with other problems to keep Ayalon's name in the media for reasons other than those for which he was sent to Washington. In a recent television interview, Ayalon said that all the juicy media items, including those concerning his relationship with Shalom, had been distorted. Although Olmert is unlikely to announce his choice for ambassador before he goes to Washington later this month, it is widely believed that the post will go to former Jewish Agency chairman Sallai Meridor, who is familiar with the American scene and well-known to the Jewish community across the continent. There was initially speculation that Olmert would appoint Meridor's older brother, former finance and justice minister Dan Meridor, to the highly sensitive, high-profile position. He refused, however, because it would mean that his wife, Liora, a senior banking executive, would have to take a long leave of absence, or that the couple would be subjected to long separations. In addition to deciding with Olmert on the identity of Ayalon's successor, Livni also has to decide whether she wants to keep existing foreign ministry staff. She has already appointed former journalist Ilan Jonas as her bureau chief. FORMER MERETZ leader Yossi Sarid has returned to the limelight as a political commentator. The often caustic Sarid, a former cabinet minister, retired from politics last year after 32 years as a Knesset member and is in high demand on radio and television. Sarid is also now a columnist for Haaretz and works in a voluntary capacity as a teacher, teaching civics in Sderot. A former education minister whose father was a senior figure in the education ministry, Sarid's advice to Education Minister Yuli Tamir is to have both teachers and pupils regard her as a friend.