Funnye is labeled in the title of the Times Magazine's story as "Obama's Rabbi." As you read the fascinating story by Zev Chafets you get a sense of the way in which the black Jewish community that he serves evolved, how its members' identities as authentic Jews have been problematic and how the Rabbi himself underwent a conversion to remove all doubt about his bona fides as a Jew. This account leaves room for much debate to follow about the contours of the definition of who is a Jew in the American community.
By ZEV CHAFETS
Rabbi Capers Funnye celebrated Martin Luther King Day this year in New York City at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a mainstream Reform congregation, in the company of about 700 fellow Jews — many of them black. The organizers of the event had reached out to four of New York’s Black Jewish synagogues in the hope of promoting Jewish diversity, and they weren’t disappointed. African-American Jews, largely from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, many of whom had never been in a predominantly white synagogue, made up about a quarter of the audience. Most of the visiting women wore traditional African garb; the men stood out because, though it was a secular occasion, most kept their heads covered. But even with your eyes closed you could tell who was who: the black Jews and the white Jews clapped to the music on different beats.
Funnye, the chief rabbi of the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago, one of the largest black synagogues in America, was a featured speaker that night...more...