First Lady Michelle Obama's Cousin, Rabbi Capers Funnye, Visits Jewish Agency's Mevasseret Zion Absorption Center for Immigrants from Ethiopia
November 4, 2009 / 17 Cheshvan 5770
First Lady Michelle Obama's cousin Rabbi Capers Funnye visited Jewish Agency's Absorption Center for new immigrants from Ethiopia in Mevasseret Zion on Wednesday Nov 4th at 11:30am with *African American Leaders Educational Seminar in Israel.
Capers C. Funnye Jr. (pronounced fu-NAY; born 1952) is a Jewish African American who is the head rabbi of the mostly African-American 200 member Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of Chicago, Illinois, as assisted by Rabbis Avraham Ben Israel and Joshua V. Salter.He is also the first African-American member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, serves on the boards of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and the American Jewish Congress of the Midwest, and is active in the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, which reaches out to black Jewish communities outside the United States, such as the Beta Israel in Ethiopia and the Igbo Jews in Nigeria.The organization was founded by Funnye in 1985 as a direct offshoot of Wentworth Arthur Matthew's Commandment Keepers. He was ordained a rabbi by the Israelite Rabbinical Academy in 1985.[dead link] In 1996, Funnye was the only official black rabbi in the Chicago area recognized by the greater Jewish community. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jewish Studies and Master of Science in Human Service Administration from the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.
Funnye is the first cousin once removed of Michelle Obama, the wife of 44th U.S. President Barack Obama.
Like most of his congregation, Rabbi Funnye was not born into Judaism; he adopted the religion later in life. He was raised as a Methodist but, dissatisfied, investigated other religions including Islam, before converting to Judaism, feeling a sense of intellectual and spiritual liberation in the constant examination that he saw the religion encouraging.
The congregation was started by Rabbi Horace Hasan from Bombay, India, in 1918 as the Ethiopian Hebrew Settlement Workers Association. Along with African-Americans, members include Hispanics and whites who were born Jews, as well as former Christians and Muslims. As is traditional with Judaism, they do not seek converts, and members must study Judaism for a year before undergoing a traditional conversion requiring men to be ritually circumcised and women to undergo ritual immersion in a mikvah. The synagogue is "somewhere between Conservative and Modern Orthodox" with distinctive African-American influences; while men and women sit separately as in Orthodox synagogues, a chorus sings spirituals to the beat of a drum. It is currently housed in a former Ashkenazi synagogue in the Marquette Park neighborhood.
Rabbi Funnye is a co-founder, with Michelle Stein-Evers and Robin Washington, of the Alliance of Black Jews, which formed in 1995.
Although the idea of African American Jews is sometimes met with skepticism, Rabbi Funnye says, "I am a Jew, and that breaks through all color and ethnic barriers."
Funnye is one of 150,000 African-Americans who practice Judaism in the United States and studies are showing African-Americans adopting Judaism is becoming much more common in the United States. One synagogue even noted about half of the people currently converting to Judaism are African-American.
* Participants in African American Leaders Educational Seminar in Israel
Representative Will Burns
Representative Will Davis
Minister Catharine Eagan
Mr. Mel Farr, Sr.
Rabbi Capers Funnye
Representative Deborah Graham
Pastor Edward Hill
Pastor Clarence C. Moore
Mrs. Hope Moore
Reverend Glenn Plummer
Honorable Kwame Raoul
Senator Martha Scott
Representative Karen Yarbrough
Photos Credit: Brian Hendler/Jewish Agency for Israel
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