Alfred Arndt: Jewish Religious Functionary of Early Los Angeles

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Alfred Arndt

Values Codes: H-E-L

Alfred Arndt was born in Russia in 1856.

He was a typical nineteenth-century self-styled traveling Jewish clergyman, whose professional title was as fluid as his employment.

There is no record of his education (perhaps he was an autodidact), but whatever he picked up at yeshiva or as an observant Jew was good enough for a Jewish religious functionary in the United States.

Alfred Arndt immigrated to Toledo, Ohio in 1887, where he worked as a clergyman in some capacity (the details are unclear).

Los Angeles

In 1895, the Arndt family relocated to Los Angeles, where Alfred floated from position to position.

His first job was as rabbi of Kahal Israel, a small Orthodox synagogue.

In 1898, Alfred Arndt was named principal of a “Hebrew Free School.”

The following year Alfred Arndt helped form a new congregation “in the conservative manner followed in Germany and France.”  —Los Angeles Herald, July 27, 1899.

The 1900 U.S. Census lists Alfred Arndt as a “school teacher.”

In 1901, Alfred Arndt served as Rabbi for the High Holidays at Beth Israel (a merger of Kahal Israel and Beth El).

In 1902 “Rev. Arndt” participated in the dedication of Beth Israel’s building, known as the “Olive Street Shul.”

Alfred Arndt was next seen leading High Holiday services separate from Beth El in 1902 and 1903.

Alfred Arndt tried to make it as an author, self-publishing The Secrets of Happiness and Longevity; or, How to be Happy and Live Longer (1903), a compendium of essays and quotations from noted authorities.

Arndt Book

From 1904 to 1907, Alfred Arndt was again involved at Beth El, this time as cantor and teacher at the synagogue’s heder (elementary school) and occasionally as “reverend.”

He proposed the establishment of a “Hebrew University” in 1907, which went nowhere.

Adv in Local Newspaper for School, 1907

Adv in Local Newspaper for School, 1907

The U.S. Census of 1910 lists him as a “minister,” suggesting that he pieced together work as a fee-for-service officiant in the Los Angeles area.

Sacramento

In 1915, Alfred Arndt became the first Rabbi of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento.

Family

In 1889, Alfred Arndt married Sarah, a fourteen-year-old child bride.

They had two children while living in Toledo

His tenure at Mosaic Law Congregation ended tragically in 1920.

His wife, Sarah, who was residing in Oakland with their children (four by that time), died of influenza at the age of forty-five.

Feeble and overwhelmed with grief, Alfred Arndt  suffered a stroke while praying by her coffin.

News of Alfred Arndt’s shocking demise made the regional headlines. The Morning Oregonian announced:

  • “Jew stricken with apoplexy while at wife’s bier.” [Mar. 24, 1920]

The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

  • “Rabbi Arndt fatally stricken in temple while kneeling in prayer for his departed wife.” [Mar. 23, 1920]

The Vancouver Daily World was particularly blunt:

  • “Rabbi Alfred Arndt of Sacramento dropped dead here yesterday in a synagogue while offering prayers for his wife.” [Mar. 23, 1920]

 

Acknowledgement

This exhibit is indebted to the research of John Guest, a Cantorial student at the Academy for Jewish Religion, Los Angeles, California.

Cantor Jonathan Friedmann  is Curator of this Alfred Arndt  Exhibit.

Cantor Friedmann’s Music Blog is at: http://thinkingonmusic.wordpress.com/

 

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