Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, offered a prayer at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration on Friday, pointedly citing a Psalm remembering Zion and Jerusalem.
In his 2-minute blessing that quoted liberally from the Talmudic Sages, Hier prayed: “Eternal God, bless President Donald J. Trump and America, our great nation…[and] all of our allies around the world who share our beliefs.”
“By the rivers of Babylon, we wept as we remembered Zion… If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. The do-er of all these shall never falter,” Hier said, the words taken from the Biblical Psalm 137.
The reference came less than a month after the US abstained in a UN Security Council vote, and chose not to use its veto, allowing through a resolution that slammed Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where Judaism’s holiest sites are located, and designated all territory captured there in the 1967 war as being unlawfully occupied by Israel from the Palestinians.
“The freedoms we enjoy are not granted in perpetuity, but must be reclaimed in each generation. As our ancestors have planted for us so we must plant for others,” Hier said Friday, adding that “a nation’s wealth is measured by her values and not by her vaults.”
The 77-year-old rabbi had faced criticism for offering the prayer and even fielded a petition calling on him to withdraw from participating in the inauguration.
“I believe that all of us should pray for his great success, because his great success means our great success,” he said ahead of the ceremony.
Hier said he accepted the invitation by the Trump team to offer the prayer immediately because “it was the menschlichkeit thing to do,” using the Yiddish word meaning honorable, “and I am proud to do it.” Hier said his participation would be in line with previous blessings he offered to a bipartisan array of presidents and presidential candidates over the past three decades, though never as part of inaugural festivities.
Critics within the Jewish community had insisted that this time was different — saying Trump’s presidential campaign targeted minorities and at times invoked tropes that many, including the Anti-Defamation League, considered anti-Semitic. The Wiesenthal Center’s own 2016 report on global anti-Semitism noted that a prominent group of neo-Nazis has embraced Trump and that Jewish journalists critical of the Republican presidential candidate were frequently targeted with anti-Semitic tweets.
Hier was among six faith leaders to accept the invitation to participate in the inauguration. The others included Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and Franklin Graham, a prominent Christian evangelist.
Hier is believed to be the first rabbi to speak at a presidential inauguration since 1985.
Hier has known the parents of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner for decades. The Hiers and the Kushners have gone to the same kosher-for-Passover resort, the Arizona Biltmore, over the years. The Kushner family, prominent real estate developers, have also been generous donors to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Named for a famed Nazi hunter, the Center is an NGO with the stated purpose of teaching about the Holocaust, confronting hate and promoting human rights.
Another prominent rabbi, Haskel Lookstein, faced a similar outcry last summer when he agreed to give an invocation at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Trump secured his party’s nomination. Lookstein, the rabbi emeritus at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and former principal of the Ramaz Orthodox day school, both in Manhattan, ultimately decided against speaking at the convention after facing a storm of criticism, including a petition led by Ramaz alumni.
In 2009, Lookstein oversaw the Orthodox conversion of Trump’s daughter Ivanka in advance of her marriage to Jared Kushner.