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Inaugural Benediction an Opportunity

Jacob Kornbluh

Rabbi Marvin (Moshe Chaim) Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, will deliver the benediction at inauguration on January 20

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

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I n December 2015, Rabbi Marvin (Moshe Chaim) Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, denounced Donald Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. A year later, after receiving an invitation from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, Rabbi Hier readily agreed to deliver the benediction at the inauguration ceremony on January 20.

“I am very proud to be an American Jew,” Rabbi Hier told Mishpacha in a phone interview. “I am very proud to accept this invitation.” Rabbi Hier says he didn’t hesitate for a second when he got the offer — despite the potential backlash from members of the Jewish community. “I say to these critics, we only have one election every four years. The election is over, and it’s preposterous to try to undo the election,” he said. “We live in the freest country in the world. Yidden thrive here. Judaism is thriving in America. So to turn down an invitation from the president of the United States, made on his behalf, would be an insult and ludicrous.”

Rabbi Hier, who was named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek in 2007, is not new to the center stage. In 1988, he delivered the benediction at the Republican National Convention. But this marks the first time an Orthodox Jewish clergyman will participate in the inauguration of a US president.

Rabbi Hier plans to pick a selection from the Torah and Tehillim that touch on issues most relevant to us today. “The good thing about our Torah is that it’s timeless, it doesn’t only talk to one generation,” Hier told Mishpacha. “It talks to every generation. And there is plenty of source material from which to draw such a comparison that would fit the issues facing our world in the 21st century.”

Hier and his organization made news recently when the Simon Wiesenthal Center listed President Obama’s decision to abstain from a UN vote condemning Israeli settlements as the top anti-Semitic incident of 2016.

It wasn’t the first time Rabbi Hier sent a strong message to Obama. In 2015, he conveyed a similar message during a meeting at the White House after details of the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran were made public. “You’re all having big commemorations on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and the liberation of the concentration camps. What meaning do these commemorations have if none of you said one word against the Ayatollah when he says he wants to destroy Israel?” Rabbi Hier told Obama. He recounted his comments to the president in an interview with Mishpacha’s news editor, Binyamin Rose, 15 months ago.

Rabbi Hier said that many Democrats are hurt and disappointed by Obama’s “outrageous” move at the UN. “Never in the history of UN Security Council meetings has there ever been a meeting called to discuss how can we dislodge Hamas from Gaza, a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the State of Israel,” he said. “Why did the Security Council, and all the hypocrites sitting around there, discuss over and over the settlements, and not five minutes of time was given to discuss the real obstacle to a two-state solution — the presence of a terror organization dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish State?”

Rabbi Hier expressed hope that the climate for Jewish and Israeli relations will change under President Trump. “Absolutely it’s going to change, because president-elect Trump knows that Israel is the best friend the United States could have in a volatile region,” he asserted. “He appointed an ambassador [David Friedman] who is very pro-Israel. His team is pro-Israel. For sure, there will be a major change.”

(Jacob Kornbluh is the political reporter for Jewish Insider)

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