The fervent and seemingly ubiquitous opposition to Rabbi Marvin Hier’s acceptance of Donald Trump’s invitation to lead a prayer at Friday’s presidential inauguration in D.C. has not deterred Hier, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles who has been friendly with the Kushners for decades. Despite calls for him to back out, a la Rabbi Lookstein at the RNC, and some support along the way, Hier said that he immediately accepted Trump’s invite to be one of six clergy present because “it was the [honorable] thing to do.”
On Tuesday, Hier spoke with Ha’aretz to explain his “no-brainer” decision to support Trump—a man whose campaign gained steam via its nativist, xenophobic, and sexist rhetoric, prompting hundreds of thousands of people, including Jewish congressmen, to commit to protesting Friday.
It’s a great honor, but even before that, it’s my duty to attend the event. I was taught by my father that…”graciousness is paramount”—and it would have been rude and unkind to turn down this invitation.
“It’s especially true here in America, a country where Jews have flourished more than in any other Diaspora in the world. Imagine the reaction of the American public if it became known that a presidential committee sent this kind of invitation, and the rabbi refused. That would create ill will. So for me, it wasn’t even a question. And yes, I pray that he will be a great president.”
Hier says his text will be “relevant to the challenges of the 21st century.” He adds that “this country has been very good to me, and to my parents who came here as poor immigrants from Poland in the 1920s. I really see it as an obligation to pray for its success, because America truly is the greatest democracy in the world.”
The last rabbi to lead a prayer at a presidential inauguration was Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk—a leader in Reform Judaism and the head of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who died in 2009—who delivered the following prayer at Ronald Reagan’s second swearing-in (accessed here in the Congressional record):
We the people turn to You, O God, in prayer. We have come again to this place which stirs our hearts to reaffirm the highest ideals of our Nation. The sacred oaths about to be pronounced In Your name reflect the awesome responsibilities entrusted to our President and Vice President by the American people. May You, who are the rock of ages, guide them in protecting the Constitution of our beloved Commonwealth, founded in faith, which ensures unity without uniformity. Sustain them. O God, as they advance the American way which “gives to bigotry no sanction” to “malevolence no hope.”
O source of all life, enshrine in their hearts the knowledge that all are created in Your image and that life—Your gift to us—is sacred.
Inspire our leaders to defeat hunger and hurt, to promote compassion and to find successful ways to assure the weak their share of America’s promise. In humility, we pray that this opportunity for renewal will advance reconciliation in the family of nations, guaranteeing peace in our world and tranquility in the farthest reaches of our universe. May those who follow us, our children and our children’s children, bless our President and Vice President, their families, and all those associated with them in Government, and may all remember this time and this administration as that in which their future was made secure.
O God, may You, who makes peace in high places, help us here on Earth to find the way to peace.
Blessed are You, O God. Aleichem Shalom, grantor of peace. Amen.
Related: Trump Watch [Tablet series]
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.