26 December 2008

The passing of a liberal lion...

There is no better way to describe Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf than as a lion of liberalism. I remember when I was in Rabbinic School at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Along with Rabbinic students from the other Jewish movements, I was invited to be a delegate at the Religious Action Center's Consulation on Conscience. In addition to the normal programming, we had a few session geared especially to us. One of those was a dinner and a conversation with Al Vorspan and Rabbi Wolf. We sat with mouths agape as these two bastions of the Reform prophetic voice swapped stories about the Civil Rights movement, protests against the VietNam War, anti-nuclear weapon rallies, and on and on. In a way, it was a bit of a mutual admiration society between two of the giants who had never missed a battle for justice.

I still remember not only the conversation, but some of the advice that Rabbi Wolf pushed on us. Never a shrinking violet, he chided us in advance. A Rabbi hadn't given a good enough sermon, he thundered, unless half the congregation was mad enough to come after him or her at the oneg.

In the 1970's, Rabbi Wolf served as the director of Yale Hillel - the days of Rev. Sloane Coffin and the New Haven Black Panter trials. He served from the pulpit of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago, across the street from the Obamas. I can only imagine what Friday nights were like in that sanctuary.

His loud voice will be missed. His roar will echo.

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