Arnold Jacob Wolf

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Template:TOCnestleft Arnold Jacob Wolf

Early activism

Wolf's activism goes back to the 1940s when he worked with Brit Shalom and Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and Henrietta Szold[1];

Rabbi Wolf served as the American representative to Brit Shalom, joining other renowned Jewish leaders including Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and Henrietta Szold in calling for "Jewish-Arab cooperation, as both necessary and possible." In 1949, he was instrumental in founding Israel's Givat Haviva Educational Institute, created to educate for peace, democracy, coexistence and social solidarity.

Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights

In 1965 Arnold Wolf was a Vice-Chairmen of Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights[2]

In 1970 Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf was still a Vice Chairman of Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights (CCDBR)[3].

The Committee's Executive Director was Richard Criley, a well known member of the Communist Party USA.

Other congressionally identified Communist Party members involved included Abe Feinglass, Jack Spiegel, Jesse Prosten and Norman Roth.

Other radicals active in the organization included former Communist Party member Milt Cohen (later a founder of Chicago DSA) and two government identified communists, Quentin Young and Timuel Black[4].

Young and Black also went on to join Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).


In 1973, Rabbi Wolf served as founding chair of the American Jewish movement Breira "A Project of Concern in Diaspora-Israel Relations."

Breira called for discussions with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, for U.S. recognition of the PLO and for PLO participation at all peace talks.

According to Michael E. Staub in his book Torn At the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America;

Breira survived four tumultuous years. Its proposals on Israeli-Diaspora Jewish relations and Palestinian nationalism generated fierce international debate over the limits of public dissent and conflict in Jewish communal life, and virtually every major American Jewish organization took a public stand on the group and what it advocated"

Breira was attacked from the beginning[5];

Major Jewish organizations denounced Breira members as PLO supporters; some rabbis and other Jewish professionals were threatened with dismissal. A campaign in the Jewish press effectively isolated Breira from the larger Jewish community. The organized Jewish community's attacks on Breira as it sought to build support for Israeli doves and dissidents, and provide them with some kind of forum here to win support, is now legend.

Breira was destroyed after five leaders including Rabbi Wolf and Arthur Waskow secretly met with PLO representative in Washington DC.

Details of the meeting were leaked by the Jerusalem Post and Breira collapsed in the subsequent uproar.

Rabbi Wolf told the Chicago Jewish News;

"I met with PLO people as long as 30 years ago. Two of them were assassinated for meeting with me and other Jews. Now I'm careful. I don't want to risk any lives on any side."

For a good "internal security" look at the "Who" and "Why" of Breira's creation, read "Breira: Counsel for Judaism", by Rael Jean Isaac, 1977, "Americans for A Safe Israel (AFSI) (New York City). This includes its history of coming from earlier Marxist-Jewish "progressive" organizations such as the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East (CONAME), created in 1970 by the Marxist "Rabbi" Arthur Waskow - (Institute for Policy Studies, Jews for Urban Justice, and the pro-Hanoi "Jewish Campaign for the People's Peace Treaty") and supported by such Marxist luminaries as Prof. Noam Chomsky, MIT and former CPUSA member and identified KGB paid agent, I. F. Stone, Izzy Stone, Isadore Stone, I.F. Izzy Stone.

Salute to Harold Washington

On April 6, 1983, the Hyde Park Herald published an endorsement from the Hyde Park/Kenwood Citizens Committee of Democratic Party Chicago mayoral candidate Harold Washington. Signatories to the endorsement included Rabbi Arnold Wolf and Lois Wolf.[6]

Democratic Socialists of America

In 2000 Rabbi Wolf was named as a member of Democratic Socialists of America in the DSA publication Religious Socialism[7].

In April 2008 Rabbi Wolf sent a "Shalom" to Chicago DSA's 50th annual Eugene V. Debs - Norman Thomas -Michael Harrington Dinner[8].

Obama friend, neighbor and supporter

Rabbi Wolf was a member of Rabbis for Obama, he has held Obama fundraisers in his home and was a big fan of the then Senator from Illinois[9].

Wolf came to Hyde Park before urban renewal. For 25 years he led the congregation at KAM Isaiah Israel, a synagogue across the street from Obama's mansion[10].

"Barack is perfect for the neighborhood!...You can't say Barack's a product of Hyde Park. He's not really from here. But everybody saw the potential early on. We had a party for him at our house when he was just starting, back in the Nineties. I said right away: 'Here's a guy who could sell our product, and sell it with splendor!' "

On "the product" Obama could sell?[11]

"The thing is, it's not what you might think...It's not radical. It's not extreme. It's a rational, progressive philosophy based on experience. You see it here. This neighborhood is genuinely integrated. We did it here, we really did it! Not just talk about it. Look around. And Barack and his family fit right in. This is their neighborhood."

In March 2008 Wolf told Jewish Week[12];

But it's not neighborly instinct that's led me to support the Obama candidacy: I support Barack Obama because he stands for what I believe, what our tradition demands.
I've worked with Obama for more than a decade, as has my son, a lawyer...
I am very proud to be his neighbor. I hope someday to visit him in the White House.

Knowing Ayers and Dohrn

Rabbi Wolf dismisses Hyde Park's radical reputation and defends two of its most well known citizens-Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn[13];

"People think we're radicals here, wild-eyed!...Bill Ayers--I know Bill Ayers very well. Bill Ayers is an aging, toothless radical. A pussycat. And his wife, too. I sat on a commission with his wife a few years ago. My god, she was more critical of the left than I was! The two of them, they're utterly conventional people. They had a violent streak at one time. But now--they're thoroughly conventional, just very nice, well-educated people from the neighborhood."

Wolf's ralationship with Bill Ayers went back to the 1960s[14];

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf knew Ayers in the 1960s and re-met Ayers and Dohrn decades later. In the 1960s Wolf said he and Ayers were on opposite sides of the use of violence to effect social change. Then, Ayers thought it useful. Wolf came out of the school of nonviolence.

Hosting Obama

The famous 1995 meeting In the home of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, that launched Obama's political career was apparently one of several functions designed to introduce Obama to the Hyde Park set[15].

Around this time, Obama started to attend a series of coffees in the Hyde Park community where he lived, standard operating procedure for political rookies running in the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Chicago.
"I was certainly (hosting) one of the first," said Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, rabbi emeritus at Chicago's KAM Isaiah Israel
"There were several every week," he recalled... "I remember what I said to him: 'Someday you are going to be vice president of the United States.' He laughed and said, 'Why not president?'

“My Neighbor Barack”

Jews For Obama.

“My Neighbor Barack” by Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf.

Not everyone can claim to be the neighbor of a Presidential candidate – I can, though, because I am.

Barack Obama’s Chicago home is across the street from KAM Isaiah Israel, the Hyde Park synagogue at which I’ve served for 27 years. He spoke to our congregation as an Illinois state senator; more recently, his Secret Service agents have made use of our, shall we say, facilities.

But it’s not neighborly instinct that’s led me to support the Obama candidacy: I support Barack Obama because he stands for what I believe, what our tradition demands.

We sometimes forget, but an integral part of that tradition is dialogue and a willingness to disagree. Certainly many who call me their rabbi have taken political positions far from mine – just as Barack Obama’s opinions have differed from those of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The candidate recently gave a speech which made abundantly clear that he and Wright often disagree. Obama condemned Wright’s “incendiary language,” and “views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but… that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation.”

Of course, race is only one issue on which Wright has stepped beyond the bounds of civil discourse. He’s frequently made statements regarding Israel and the Jewish community that I find troubling. But to limit our understanding of Obama to the ill-conceived comments of the man who once led his church is dishonest and self-defeating.

Obama’s strong positions on poverty and the climate, his early and consistent opposition to the Iraq War, his commitment to ending the Darfur genocide – all these speak directly to Jewish concerns. If we’re sidetracked by Wright’s words, we’ll be working against these interests. After all, a preacher speaks to a congregation, not for the congregation.

And still many remain concerned that Obama isn’t committed to Israel. Some want him to fall in line behind the intransigent, conservative thinking that has silenced Jewish debate on Israeli policy, and enabled the Bush Administration’s criminal neglect of the diplomatic process.

Clearly, though, anyone who thinks Obama waffles on Israel hasn’t been paying attention. In 2007, he spoke to AIPAC about “a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel”; today, his website states clearly that America’s “first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel.”

For my part, 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, and that can be disappointing. But unlike anyone else on the stump, Obama has also made it clear that he’ll broaden the dialogue. He knows what peace entails.

Speaking recently before a Jewish audience in Cleveland, Obama did the unthinkable – he challenged the room. He talked about the need to ask “difficult questions” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “I sat down with the head of Israeli security forces,” he said “and his view of the Palestinians was incredibly nuanced…. There’s good and there’s bad, and he was willing to say sometimes we make mistakes… and if we’re just pressing down on these folks constantly, without giving them some prospects for hope, that’s not good for our security.”

Yet, in spite of all of Obama’s strengths, there’s another truth we’ve been loathe to admit: Among some American Jews, race plays a key role in the hesitation to support the Obama candidacy. We’ve forgotten that Black and Jewish America once shared a common vision; in the civil rights era, I and many in our community stood shoulder to shoulder with the giants of our generation, demanding freedom for all Americans.

Obama himself doesn’t share our amnesia, however. “I would not be sitting here,” he said in Cleveland, “if it were not for a whole host of Jewish Americans.” That was literal truth, but not everyone remembers it.

I’ve worked with Obama for more than a decade, as has my son, a lawyer who represents children and people with disabilities. He has admired Obama’s dedication and skill as he worked on issues affecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Obama is no anti-Semite. He is not anti-Israel. He is one of our own, the one figure on the political scene who remembers our past, and has a real vision for repairing our present.

Barack Obama is brilliant and open-hearted; he is wiser and more thoughtful than his former minister. He offers what America, Israel, and the Jewish community need: a US President willing to ask hard questions, and grapple with difficult answers.

I am very proud to be his neighbor. I hope someday to visit him in the White House. Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf is rabbi emeritus at Chicago’s KAM Isaiah Israel, Illinois’s oldest Jewish congregation. [16]


Long-time Democratic Socialists of America member[17]and supporter Rabbi Arnold Wolf died unexpectedly on Tuesday, December 23 2008 He was 84 years old.

Letter from Obama

From the Organizing for America website;

Letter from President-Elect Barack Obama

Funeral of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf December 26, 2008 Chicago, Illinois

I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, who was not just our neighbor, but a dear friend to Michelle and me. We are joined in this time of grief by the entire Hyde Park community, the American Jewish Community, and all those who shared Rabbi Wolf's passion for learning and profound commitment to serving others. Today we bid farewell to a titan of moral strength and a champion of social justice...

Rabbi Wolf's commitment to justice started early in life. As a young rabbi serving at a turbulent time for our nation, he was determined to fight discrimination of any kind, and his involvement in the Civil Rights movement alongside Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel helped strengthen the bonds between the Jewish and African-American communities.

Rabbi Wolf embarked on an historic experiment with the founding of Congregation Solel on Chicago's North Shore. Solel, which means "trailblazer," describes him well. He was proud to have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an honored guest speaker. He was among the first to introduce to Chicago the writings of Elie Wiesel and Holocaust studies. And he never shied away from controversy or challenge when he saw an opportunity to advance the cause of freedom throughout Chicago and in Jewish homes and classrooms across our country, Rabbi Wolf's name is synonymous with service, social action, and the possibility of change. He will be remembered as a loving husband and father, an engaging teacher, a kindhearted shepherd for the K.A.M. Isaiah community, and a tireless advocate of peace for the United States, Israel and the world.
And I will always be personally grateful for the support he showed me as I embarked on my own journey. In a piece Rabbi Wolf wrote on my behalf months ago, he wrote that he was proud to be my neighbor and that he hoped to someday visit me in the White House. In the end, however, the honor was all mine. And while he may not have lived to pay that visit to the Oval Office, I hope that his spirit of love, his love of learning, and his deep dedication to serving others will live on in the work I do each day. May his memory be a blessing and a comfort to us all and an inspiration for the generations to come.

Jewish Alliance for Justice & Peace

As of Jan. 1, 2010, Wolf was a member of the Honorary Board for the Jewish Alliance for Justice & Peace.[18]



  2. Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights Letterhead Feb 1965
  3. Full text of "The Nationwide Drive Against Law Enforcement Intelligence Operations : Hearing before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary (SISS), United States Senate, Ninety-fourth Congress, First Session page 151
  4. "The Nationwide Drive Against Law Enforcement Intelligence Operations : Hearing before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate (SISS), Ninety-fourth Congress, First Session
  6. Hyde Park Herald April 6, 1983, page 8
  18. Jewish Alliance for Justice & Peace website: Honorary Board