Sidney Wolf : A Corpus Christi Legacy

REFLECTIONS ON 75 YEARS OF OVATIONS

Contributed by: Michelle Kish

Born in Cleveland on December 8, 1906, Rabbi Sidney A. Wolf would forge many significant paths throughout his life, from spiritual to social to musical; paths that would eventually lead The Caller Times to note Rabbi Wolf as one of the 11 most influential and important people in the Corpus Christi community throughout the 20th century.1 A portion of his historical journey was as the founding president of the Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra.

 Wolf grew up in Cleveland as a musical prodigy, performing in a combo act by the age of 13.   While studying in seminary at Hebrew Union College, he would win a scholarship to The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, delving into music theory, organ and piano during his studies. Wolf had a goal of becoming a community-oriented Rabbi that fused music and religion to bring his congregation and greater community together. He would achieve this in the unassuming town of Corpus Christi, TX, where he took a position as the Rabbi at Temple Beth El in 1932. At the time, the temple consisted of under 70 families gathering in a small wooden building. Corpus Christi itself was only 30,000 residents with no orchestra or organization of professional musicians.

By 1945 the town had grown significantly. In this year, Dr. C. Burdette Wolfe established a music department at Del Mar College (then Corpus Christi Junior College) and encouraged his students and other community members to form a part-time symphony. Here, Rabbi Sydney Wolf took the lead as the founding president of the Corpus Christi Symphony Society and launched their first season by raising $6,500 to fund the small orchestra’s fist four community concerts and two children’s performances.2

Rabbi Wolf would serve as the society’s president, fundraiser, program annotator, radio personality, promotor and rehearsal pianist. The Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra, whose foundations were laid by the Corpus Christi Symphony Society, would benefit greatly from his founding work and dedication. However, this was not the only area of the Corpus Christi community where Rabbi Wolf would lay his lasting impact.

Throughout his life, Rabbi Sydney Wolf would become known for his humanitarian work, his racial inclusivity in an era of segregation, and his efforts to promote fellowship in the community across religious boundaries. Beginning in 1935, Rabbi Wolf and his friend Rev. William Capers Munds (Episcopal Church of the Good Shepard) started a tradition of a shared Thanksgiving service that would rotate year after year between the synagogue and the church. This was such a revolutionary concept that it was featured in Time Magazine in 1936. Later, in 1950, Rabbi Wolf invited the first black minister to preach at Temple Beth El, Rev. Sidney R. Smith, in honor of Brotherhood Week. The service was also accompanied by the student choir of Solomon M. Coles High School, then a segregated school. The choir, and subsequent speakers involved in civil rights in Corpus Christi, TX, would return for years to come for Inter-Racial Relations Sabbaths.3 These are only a few of the areas where Rabbi Wolf left his legacy. He was also involved in providing for public libraries, the Adult Learning Center, the Crisis Intervention Center and The Red Cross. After Wolf’s death in 1983, the Caller Times would memorialize him as, “a vital force for good and beauty in Corpus Christi. He has left a lasting mark on the city and it’s people.”4

His mark was also left musically. He brought music to his congregation throughout his career, and upon his retirement, he began teaching a music-appreciation class at Del Mar College. Even after the age of 70, he would continue to teach free classes on music-appreciation that he would coordinate to match the programs of the Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra. Even now, his musical influence in Corpus Christi lives on. Established in 1982, The Sydney Wolf Scholarship is awarded yearly to a student in the Del Mar Music Department.

Rabbi Wolf received many local and national honors throughout his lifetime. Since his death in 1983, he has been memorialized in various articles, books and journals as an invaluable leader, for his work with the Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra and for his groundbreaking efforts in civil-rights in South Texas. A Texas historical marker in honor of Sydney A. Wolf can be viewed at the Seaside Memorial Park in Corpus Christi.


1. Wilk, Helen. “Rabbi Sydney and Bebe Wolf Memorial Service.” Texas Jewish Historical
            Society
. Texas Jewish Historical Society. Fall 2003. p. 9 
2. Wilk, Helen. “Wolf, Sidney Abraham (1906–1983).” Texas State Historical
            Association, Handbook of Texas
. Texas State Historical Association.
            Retrieved: September 2020. tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wolf-sidney-abraham
3. Weiner, Ava Hollace. “Prophet in a New Frontier.” (Reprint). Texas Jewish Historical
            Society
. Texas Jewish Historical Society. Summer 1995. p.16. Orig., Fort- Worth Star Telegram
4. Wilk, Helen. “Rabbi Sydney and Bebe Wolf Memorial Service.” Texas Jewish Historical
            Society
. Texas Jewish Historical Society. Fall 2003. p. 7,8