Bernard-Henri Lévy undid the top three buttons of his shirt as soon as he was done with his oration last night. “Now I’m free!” he said. “My love of freedom goes till that. I never wore a tie in my life. Even in very official circumstances, I never wore a tie. Which is very unusual for a Frenchman!”
Mr. Lévy, the dramatic French intellectual with the wavy hair and the persistently bare chest, was standing amid a circle of admirers at the 92nd Street Y, minutes after delivering the annual State of World Jewry address. The address had been mostly grim: Jewry is in peril, was the main idea, and Israel is really good. Also that Islamic radicalism is not to be tolerated, and that to do so is to betray the principles of liberalism.
The Jewish people have never been more “lonely, vulnerable and threatened” than they are right now, Mr. Lévy said.
About 1,000 people had come to hear Mr. Lévy talk about this idea, among them Isabella Rosellini, former New Republic owner Marty Peretz and someone important from the French consulate. Also, Maer Roshan from Radar was there; he sat in the balcony with Portfolio media blogger Jeff Bercovici.
On his way downstairs to the party, Mr. Roshan was asked if he liked Mr. Lévy’s speech. He said he had, but that the tone was more polemical than he’d expected. Did Mr. Roshan feel lonely, vulnerable, and threatened, as Mr. Lévy had described? Not personally, he said. Not in New York.
“I grew up in Iran, so I know that people who live there are scared,” he said. “My relatives there are certainly scared.”
Downstairs, at the party, a French journalist named Philippe Coste stood by himself and nursed a cup of red wine. He said he was very impressed with Mr. Lévy’s English, and that he admires him for his “extreme capacity for public relations, conveying ideas and so on.”
Mr. Coste, who himself speaks with a charming French accent, has been living in New York for 15 years, and he writes for the Paris-based magazine L’Express. A lot of his friends are also French people.
“I don’t know this crowd, to tell you the truth,” he said. “But they don’t seem snobbish. They don’t, not at all. They seem to have something in common, and they are sometimes awkwardly trying to share that with other people.”
Mr. Lévy at this moment was hunched over and nodding in the direction of a fur-clad, older lady who was talking to him about the difference between idealism and pragmatism.
When she went away, the Media Mob asked Mr. Lévy about that vulnerability stuff. Did he feel vulnerable?
“No,” he said. “Not as a person, no. As a person, I am strong. The personal and the general don’t obey to the same law.”
O.K., but what about this party? Did he know all these people? How would he describe the crowd?
“Some I know, some I don’t know. The crowd? I would not allow myself to describe it. I never describe crowds—I describe individuals.”
By half past 10, the party had dwindled to 92Y organizer-blogger Andrew Krucoff and his friends, and a few writers hovering by the door—namely Paul Berman, New York Times Magazine editor Alex Star, and New York Times Book Review mascot Rachel Donadio.
Mr. Berman and Mr. Star were talking to each other happily, even though Mr. Berman once wrote a 28,000 word piece in The New Republic about how Mr. Star’s magazine had played into the hands of a dangerous Muslim fundamentalist by printing a softball profile of controversial Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan.
They were talking about The New York Times’ front page; Mr. Berman didn’t like that Scrabulous story that was on there a few days ago.
Mr. Berman’s date, an Africa specialist named Michelle Sieff with striking dark hair and smart leather boots, stood nearby. How did she like Mr. Lévy’s lecture?
“I thought it was very brilliant,” she said. “A passionate, operatic speech.”
Had she been surprised by anything Mr. Lévy had said?
“I think you should interview Paul about this.”
But Paul was leaving. “What time is it?” he said. Someone had invited them to a party.
“Late,” Ms. Sieff responded. “Oh my gosh. It’s very late.”
Mr. Berman checked his watch and decided she was right.
“We’re going to Brooklyn,” he said, turning to Mr. Star and Ms. Donadio. “You wanna go to Brooklyn?”
Ms. Donadio said she would be up for a cab.
“I actually have a car,” Mr. Berman said sheepishly.
Minutes later they were gone. Mr. Krucoff and his friends went to Elaine’s.