Robert I. Hiller, community development leader

Jewish community leader and World War II veteran Robert Hiller dies.

Robert I. Hiller, a nonprofit leader who helped develop community fundraising strategies and was active in the Soviet Jewry movement, died May 27 at his home in Boca Raton, Fla., of congestive heart failure. He was 93.

"Bob Hiller was a giant in the field of Jewish communal leadership," Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said in a statement. "He was a student and a teacher of community development theory and was guided by an ethical and moral code which distinguished him as a leader."

Mr. Hiller, a social worker, was executive vice president during the 1960s of The Associated, the principal fundraising and philanthropic arm for local Jewish organizations. It was then called the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund.

Mr. Hiller became president in 1980 of the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, a nonprofit organization providing funding for social projects in Baltimore. Mr. Hiller "was a partner and collaborator for Krieger's noteworthy and community-shaping philanthropy," Hiller's family said in a statement. 

By then, he had obtained extensive experience in community development and organizing.

As an executive with Community Chest of Metropolitan Detroit in 1948, he helped bring together corporations such as General Motors with social service groups under an umbrella organization, a precursor to collective fundraising efforts today.

"We put together a test campaign for a limited number of corporations, including the ten largest in the metropolitan area," Mr. Hiller wrote in his 2011 autobiography, "Getting Results: Fifty Years of Opportunities and Decisions."

"I can say the experiment worked," Mr. Hiller wrote. A new organization emerged called the United Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit, which is considered by many as a precursor to the modern United Way structure.

Mr. Hiller became associate director of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland in 1950. In 1956, he joined the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh and remained there until moving to Baltimore in 1965.

In 1968, Mr. Hiller worked to secure financial aid to Baltimore shopkeepers whose stores were burned or looted in riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

"The first riot I experienced was in the summer of 1949, in Detroit, Michigan," he wrote in his autobiography. "Compared to 1968, it seemed like a neighborhood upset. It is not possible to describe the debris and property devastation. The Baltimore experience was indescribable and emblazoned in my mind forever."

Mr. Hiller was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Sept. 26, 1921, and lived there until entering the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1944. He served a full tour — more than 25 missions — as navigator of a B-24 Liberator during World War II.

He earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and received a master's degree in social work from the school in 1948.

He wrote in his book of meeting his wife, Marianne Silver, at a wedding in 1945. "Never in the past 66 years, nor in the 24 years before that, had I been so totally smitten by any person," he wrote. The couple was married for 69 years.

Mr. Hiller's mother, Anna Goldberg, was a community activist and an important influence in his life, said Barbara Schuman, one of his three children.

"His family had very little materially, they were really poor, especially during the Depression," Ms. Schuman wrote in a eulogy for her father.

Despite their poverty, she said, Hiller's parents regularly kept a "pushke," a Yiddish word for a can to collect donations for the poor. Hiller inherited the pushke, which was then passed on to Schuman.

"He was taught that this was his duty," Ms. Schuman's eulogy said. "It was not seen as being generous but rather a responsibility to take care of others and to perform this act of justice and righteousness."

Mr. Hiller was active in the National Council on Soviet Jewry, and relatives said he greeted hundreds of Russian Jews at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. Photos in his book show Hiller with former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Golda Meir.

He served on numerous national and international boards, including the board of governors of The Jewish Agency to Israel and the board of advisers of the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Private funeral services were held on May 29 in Lake Worth, Fla. Family members will attend services at Beth El Congregation at 8101 Park Heights Ave., on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Others are invited before the service at 7 p.m. or afterward at 7:55 in the Kolker Room.

In addition to his wife, Marianne, who lives in Boca Raton, Hiller is survived by his brother, Donald Hiller of Venice, Fla.; Ms. Schuman of Delray Beach, Fla.; a daughter, Karen H. Kreisberg of Baltimore; a son, Joshua D. Hiller of Baltimore; and seven grandchildren.

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