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Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf

Lawrence Bush
March 18, 2018

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, a staunch anti-war and pro-civil rights activist, was born on this date in Chicago in 1924. From 1957 until 1972 he held the pulpit at a synagogue he founded, Congregation Solel in Highland Park, where Martin Luther King, Jr. and defendants in the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial were invited to speak. The synagogue was one of the first in America to hold an annual Holocaust remembrance, beginning in the 1960s. In 1965, Wolf marched in Selma, Alabama with John Lewis. He served as chaplain for eight years at Yale University, during which time he helped to found Breira, one of the first American Jewish organizations to support a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. From 1980 to 2000, he led K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple, Chicago’s oldest synagogue, across the street from the home of Barack Obama, whose candidacy for president Wolf strongly endorsed. (“For my part,” Wolf wrote, “I’ve sometimes found Obama too cautious on Israel. He, like all our politicians, knows he mustn’t stray too far from the conventional line . . . But unlike anyone else on the stump, Obama has made it clear that he’ll broaden the dialogue. He knows what peace entails.”) Wolf died shortly after Obama was elected with 77 percent of the Jewish vote. To view Sarah Jane Lapp’s Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist, based on Wolf’s words, visit our multi-media room.

“Whenever we spoke [Wolf] asked the same question, ‘Kleinman, you still Jewish?’ If I answered yes, he would ask if I could prove it. Over time I learned that, for Arnold, the right response was, ‘I’m still trying.’” —Rabbi Elliott A. Kleinman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.