Last Tuesday, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that President Barack Obama told a group of visiting Jewish leaders that he "probably knows about Judaism more than any other president, because he read about it." While that is certainly untrue, Obama continued, suggesting that he should not be questioned about his commitment to the Jewish state because “all his friends in Chicago were Jewish.”
That might very well be true. The question is which Jews? Meet Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf.
Author Peter Beinhart, an Obama admirer and critic of Israel whose wife works as Special Assistant and Associate Counsel to the President, and who recently declared Obama to be "the first Jewish president," discusses Obama's immersion in Rabbi Wolf's Jewish radical fringe in his book The Crisis of Zionism:
But Obama was not embedded in the Jewish world; he was embedded in one specific Jewish world — a world of Jews who in the 1960s had opposed segregation and the Vietnam War and after 1967 applied the same liberal democratic principles when it came to Israel. Woven into the life stories of many of the Jews who most influenced the young Barack Obama was a bitter estrangement from the see-no-evil Zionism of the American Jewish establishment. In Chicago, those Jews constituted a geographic and moral community, a community that bred in Obama a specific, and subversive, vision of American Jewish identity and of the Jewish state. And at the heart of it all was Arnold Jacob Wolf.
A Reform rabbi, Wolf spent 20 years as the leader of K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple, which is located across the street from the Obamas' home in Chicago.
Rabbi Wolf subscribed to the "blame Israel first" policy of American Progressivism, and like the future president was active with the Democratic Socialists of America.
According to Wolf, he joined domestic terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn as one of the first to host “coffees” introduce 1996 candidate for Illinois State Senate, Barack Obama, to the community:
"I was certainly (hosting) one of the first," said Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, rabbi emeritus at Chicago's KAM Isaiah Israel--located across the street from the Obama home.
"There were several every week," he recalled on Tuesday night when we spoke. "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?''
Upon the death of Rabbi Wolf in December 2008, President Elect Obama wrote:
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...
Before his death, Rabbi Wolf spent much of his career leading organizations seeking to criticize, and even delegitimize, the Jewish State of Israel.