Tim Boxer At Bernard Lewis Celebration
09/20/12
Special To The Jewish Week
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Bernard Lewis, who has earned almost every honor an historian of the Middle East can hope to accumulate, confessed at a dinner celebrating his career:

“At 96 years old I use a cane, need hearing aids and take naps. I eat less and weigh more. I have deteriorated physically and even mentally. There is an Israeli expression, ad meah v’esrim, till 120. Some say ad meah k’esrim, till 100, like 20. That sounds better.”

More than 350 people applauded at the American Friends of Tel Aviv University’s dinner Sept. 12 at the Pierre Hotel. Even though he’s the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton, Lewis donated his magnificent 18,000-volume library to Tel Aviv University. For over three decades he’s been a visiting professor at TAU’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.   

Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, paid Lewis possibly the ultimate compliment: “You are somebody to whom I listen.”

Itamar Rabinovich, former ambassador to U.S. and former TAU president, said that in the Middle Ages there was a Jewish community in China that vanished. He quoted Bernard Lewis: “Jews can survive persecution but can’t survive being ignored.”

He recalled a lecture Lewis gave at the University of Michigan. A student asked, “Mr. Lewis, how can you speak about Islam when you never lived there?” Lewis answered, “By extension of your logic, sir, only fish can teach marine biology at this institution.”

Mort Zuckerman, owner of the New York Daily News and editor in chief of U.S. News and World Report, said in his 27 years in journalism he’s often quoted three people: Henry Kissinger, Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis.

“Journalism,” Zuckerman noted, “is practiced by individuals who have no ideas but have the ability to express them.”

Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, said he was intimidated when he first met Lewis at Princeton. “You can call me Bernard,” Lewis said. “Okay, Professor Lewis,” Ajami said.

“Where are you from,” Lewis asked. “From a forsaken place in Lebanon called Arnoun,” Ajami said. “You should come over,” Lewis said. “I have land deeds of Arnoun.”

Harvey Krueger, chairman of TAU board of governors, told how Lewis’s books taught him to be wary how nations teach their history. “The temptation is often overwhelmingly strong to tell it, not as it really was, but as we wish it to have been.”

Even Jewish scholars invented history when they fostered the myth that during the 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain there was tolerance for Jews.

“As Bernard makes clear,” Krueger said, “Muslims would have seen such tolerance as a sin against the holy law of Islam.

“Why manufacture this history? The invention of Muslim tolerance gave the Jews a weapon to use against their Christian neighbors. It’s a patently false myth to serve a useful political purpose—history as we wish it to be.”

Seen in the audience were Paul Gigot, Paul Wolfowitz, David Makovsky, Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute, Bruce Kovner, founder of Caxton Associates, Chaim Katzman of the Gazit Group, Jim Dubin, Jerry Levin, Michael Shaoul, CEO of Oscar Gruss, and Ingebord and Ira Rennert.

Bernard Lewis said he was grateful “for those who have spoken and particularly for those who have listened."

Last Update:

09/24/2012 - 09:25

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