“I never wore a tie in my life. Even in very official circumstances. Which is very unusual for a Frenchman!”
Bernard-Henri Lévy was standing amid admirers at the 92nd Street Y after delivering the annual State of World Jewry address. The address had been mostly grim: Jewry is in peril, was the main idea. Also that Islamic radicalism is not to be tolerated.
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 the glam French intellectual. Mr. Lévy hunched over and nodded 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 Transom asked Mr. Lévy if he himself felt vulnerable.
“No,” he said. “Not as a person. As a person, I am strong. The personal and the general don’t obey to the same law.”How would he describe the crowd? “The crowd?” He said. “I would not allow myself to describe it. I never describe crowds—I describe individuals.”
By half past 10, the party had dwindled to a few writers hovering by the door—namely Paul Berman, The New York Times Magazine editor Alex Star, and The New York Times Book Review’s Rachel Donadio, an Observer alumna. Mr. Berman and Mr. Star were talking to each other chummily, 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.
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?
“A passionate, operatic speech,” she said.
Her date indicated it was time to leave; someone had invited them to a party. “We’re going to Brooklyn,” Mr. Berman 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.