Wolf, Alfred

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WOLF, ALFRED (1915–2004), rabbi, community leader, and interreligious pioneer. Born in Eberbach, Germany, to Hermann and Regina Levy Wolf, Alfred Wolf was one of five rabbinic students brought to the United States by Hebrew Union College in 1935 to continue their studies away from Nazi persecution.

Wolf earned a B.A. at the University of Cincinnati in 1937, was ordained at huc in 1940, and completed a Ph.D. in religion at the University of Southern California in 1961. Wolf held pulpits in Toronto, Ontario, and Dothan, Alabama (1940–46), before serving as the Union of American Hebrew Congregation's Southeast Council Regional Director (1945–46) and then moving to Los Angeles to serve as the uahc's Western Regional Director (1946–49). In 1949, he joined Edgar F. Magnin and Maxwell Dubin to become the third member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple's rabbinic staff, which provided religious leadership for the West's largest congregation. After retiring as Wilshire's Senior Rabbi in 1985, he served as director of the American Jewish Committee's Skirball Institute on American Values and became its director emeritus in 1996.

Wolf's influence on Jewish life in Southern California was immediate and far-reaching. In 1946, there were only six Reform congregations in the greater Los Angeles area. Three years later, thanks in part to his energetic efforts with the uahc – and the Jewish population explosion – there were 18. Upon his arrival at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, he initially focused his attention on creating programs for Jewish youth. He reinstated the bar mitzvah, built up the religious school to 2,000 students, and, most significantly, started one of the nation's first Jewish summer camp programs, which eventually included Camp Hess Kramer (1952) and Gindling Hilltop Camp (1968) on 200 coastal acres in Malibu. Wolf's concept for Jewish camping had its roots in the hills of Germany, where the life-long hiker led Jewish youngsters on outings even after Hitler's ascent to power. The Malibu camps have been attended by more than 50,000 children and are used throughout the off-season by numerous community groups from across the region.

Wolf was determined to assume a leadership role in promoting community and interreligious relations in America. He served as chairman of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, offering important guidance in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Riots, and in 1969 he co-founded the Interreligious Council of Southern California, which became the first such organization in the U.S. to encompass virtually all of the world's major religions. In 1987, Wolf was selected to address Pope John Paul ii on behalf of the entire Southern California Jewish community during the pontiff's historic visit to Los Angeles.

Among Wolf's numerous other active affiliations were the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Board of Governors, the National Commission on Interfaith Relations, the American Jewish Committee's Los Angeles Executive Board, the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council, and the American Academy of Religion.

[Robin Kramer (2nd ed.)]