Hier, Marvin

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HIER, MARVIN

HIER, MARVIN (1939– ), U.S. rabbi and founder of the *Simon Wiesenthal Center. Hier was born in New York City, the son of a Polish-born lamp polisher who immigrated to the United States in 1917. He was raised in a strictly Orthodox enclave on the Lower East Side and received his rabbinical ordination from the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Theological Seminary. Immediately after his ordination, Hier and his wife Marlene left for Vancouver, Canada, to assume the pulpit at the city's leading Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Schara Tzedeck. He found a Jewish community whose lifestyle and religious commitment differed sharply from his own upbringing. Hier focused first on the sons and daughters of the synagogue members, believing, correctly, that the youngsters would eventually bring along their parents. Through one of his students, Hier met the boy's father, Samuel Belzberg, a leading businessman. Belzberg and his family were to become Hier's first and most consistent financial supporters.

Hier gave an early indication of his political activism when he and other rabbis confronted then Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, protesting the oppression of Soviet Jews during Kosygin's visit to Vancouver in 1975.

After 15 years as spiritual leader of Schara Tzedeck, doubling as Hillel director at the University of British Columbia, Hier spent a sabbatical in Israel. Inspired by the impact of the Or Sameach study center in Jerusalem on young, often alienated, Western Jews, he decided to redirect his considerable energy and entrepreneurship onto a broader stage. Backed by a $500,000 check from the Belzbergs, Hier moved to Los Angeles to establish a yeshivah. He secured an affiliation with the Yeshiva University of New York. Under the arrangement, the newly founded Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (yula) received academic input from the New York institution but was otherwise administratively and financially independent. Despite some adult education outreach, yula has remained primarily a high school-level institution, with separate schools for boys and girls.

Hier, most of whose parents' relatives perished in the Holocaust, embarked on an even more ambitious endeavor in 1977: the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (now known as the Simon Wiesenthal Center).

Under the leadership of Hier as founding dean and Rabbi Abraham Cooper as associate dean the Center evolved into a global institution, with 400,000 contributor-members, a film division, research staff, political influence, a popular Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and another underway in Jerusalem.

With his high profile, Hier has been the target of criticism for the high-tech nature of interactive Holocaust exhibits, his dual role as dean of both the religious yula and the secular Wiesenthal Center, his lobbying prowess for private, state, and federal funds, and his encroaching on the "turf " of older established Jewish organizations.

While the Center is a non-religious institution, its leadership is Orthodox and Hier himself personifies the more aggressive and militant attitude of contemporary modern Orthodoxy. At the same time, through the Center's emphasis on tolerance and multi-denominational outreach, Hier has exerted a strongly moderating influence on the Orthodox community.

[Tom Tugend (2nd ed.)]