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October 12, 1984 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-10-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

16

Friday, October 12, 1984

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and interviews with more than three dozen people, focuses
on what the Center does, how and why it does it, and why
this institution has been both praised and condemned for
the way it deals with the Holocaust — an examination in-
to what inspires us, and at what price.

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The Wiesenthal
Center Museum
features a montage
depicting Stalin,
Roosevelt, Churchill
and Pdpe Pius XII
as "the bystanders."

444

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tion in the Jewish community; it is named after an authen-
tic modem hero and deals with the sacred topic of
Holocaust education. "To amcha (the Jewish masses), the
Center is kedusha (holy)," said one West Coast rabbi, "but
there is a growing amount of murmuring among the Jewish
elite — the professionals and the scholars." They feel the
Center has lost its original purpose as a research institu-
tion, that its financial success has far outdistanced its pro-
grams, and that its Holocaust-related activities are a
means of attracting support for the yeshiva it sponsors.
They view the Center as an extension of Rabbi Hier —
"slick, aggressive and full of hype," in the words of one
national Jewish leader.
Holocaust survivors and scholars say he has cheapen-
ed and exploited the tragedy through his fund-raising
techniques; local and national Jewish organizations feel
he has moved in on their turf, isolating himself and the
Center from the rest of the community; and community
relations professionals charge that he has deliberately over-
dramatized anti-Semitic incidents, fueling fear and
paranoia among many Jews.
"The over-riding message of The Simon Wiesenthal
Center seems to be: it can happen again," says Rabbi
Harold Schulweis, who heads a large Conservative con-
gregation in Los Angeles. "They point up only the dangers
and try to scare people."
Says a spokesman for the Center: "Controlled hysteria
is sometimes necessary as a marketing technique."
Martin Mendelsohn, the former head of the Special
Litigation Unit of Nazi War Criminals for the U.S. Depart-
ment of Justice who is now Counsel to the Wiesenthal
Center, smiles when he hears the accusations against Rab-
bi Hier and the Center. "Let's face it," he says, "the critics
resent him because he's Orthodox, he's aggressive, and
most of all because he's so successful. The establishment
organizations stirei gevalt, raise money and do nothing.
They re-act to events. The Center acts, quickly and
effectively.
"The reality is that you can't be effective in the Jewish
world without stepping on some toes."
Does the end justify the means? For years the debates
have swirled in the Jewish community on the meaning and
demeaning of the Holocaust, on whether Jewish organiza-
tions have "used" the Holocaust to raise funds.
This report, based on a visit to the Wiesenthal Center

"I was intrigued by Los Angeles. My dream
was to build a yeshiva there."
Rabbi Hier

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is, literally and figurative-
ly, a Hollywood success story. Located on West Pico
Boulevard in the heart of one of the major Jewish areas of
Los Angeles, it blends Jewish activism and showbiz glitz
in a way no other Jewish institution could, or would. A re-
cent gala 75th birthday party for Simon Wiesenthal at the
Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles was described by the
Center as "a star-studded dinner" for 1,500 chaired by
Elizabeth Taylor and featuring a musical tribute to Wiesen-
thal by pop singer Barry Manilow. Other entertainment
figures on hand included Red Buttons, Ed Asner, Jayne
Meadows, Leonard Nimoy and Suzanne Somers. Personal
greetings were sent by President Reagan, Israel President
Chaim Herzog, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and
Frank Sinatra.
The intermediary between world and Jewish leaders and
the entertainment industry is Rabbi Hier, who seems as
comfortable chatting with a movie star as he does discuss-
ing a point of Talmud. It was Rabbi Hier who recognized
the impact of mass media on Jewish causes and who sens-
ed the potential for a major Jewish center in southern
California at a time when the East Coast, and specifically
New York, was considered the only logical place to base a
national Jewish organization.
Marvin Hier is a curious blend of Lower East Side street
smarts and Hollywood sophistication, a fact underscored
by his offic% at the Wiesenthal Center. On display are his
1962 Orthodox rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Jacob
Joseph, a yeshiva on the Lower East Side of New York, as

"They point up only
the dangers and try
to scare people," says
a critic of the Center.
But a Center official
counters: "Controlled
hysteria is sometimes
necessary as a
marketing technique."

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