Rabbi Marvin Hier of Los Angeles wasn’t expecting it, but last week he received an offer in a telephone call from President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.
“They contacted me — the inaugural committee — and asked me if I would want to participate in the inauguration by offering a prayer,” Hier told KPCC. “I said it would be my honor to do so.”
Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. He also is the founder of Moriah Films, the Center's documentary film division, through which he has won two Academy Awards.
On Wednesday, 23 days before Trump’s inauguration, the inaugural committee announced in a statement the names of the invited clergy. Hier is one of six religious leaders — including black and Hispanic Protestant clergy and a Catholic cardinal — invited to offer prayers at next month's swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C.
According to the committee's statement, Hier will offer readings, recite an original prayer and give President-elect Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence each a benediction.
Hier, who was named the "Most Influential Rabbi in America" by Newsweek magazine in 2007 and 2008, said he would begin composing his prayer throughout the next few weeks leading up to the inauguration. The prayer, he said, will have a “21st century ring to it,” and he hopes it will remind Americans not to feel entitled, to work hard and do all they can to live successful lives.
“I’m a believer that the best is yet to come,” he said. “I do not believe that the U.S. is spiraling out of control. I’m an eternal optimist.”
Hier’s parents were immigrants from eastern Europe. In the 1920s, they fled a wave of anti-Semitism and moved to New York, where Hier was born. He moved to Los Angeles in 1977 to start the Wiesenthal Center, which functions as an international Jewish human rights organization.
The last rabbi to pray during a president’s inauguration was Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk in the 1985 inaugural of Ronald Reagan, according to the U.S. State Department’s website. You can watch Gottschalk's prayer here, about 8 minutes into the C-SPAN recording.
The other religious leaders include His Eminence Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, Reverend Dr. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Pastor Paula White of New Destiny Christian Center, Reverend Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries international.
The presidential inauguration takes place on Jan. 20.
Following the swearing-in ceremony, the National Prayer Service will take place on Jan. 21 at the Washington National Cathedral.