In this 2009 photo, Rabbi Capers Funnye sits with children during his visit at a Jewish Agency's absorption center for Ethiopian immigrants in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem. Funnye is the son of first lady Michelle Obama's cousin. (Photo: REUTERS/Brian Hendler/Jewish Agency)
When all of the congregants at a place of worship serve the same God, does their skin color matter?
Not according to Rabbi Capers Funnye. On Friday, Funnye, a prominent African-American rabbi from Chicago who is also the cousin of first lady Michelle Obama, delivered a message to the predominately white congregation at Temple of the Arts Shabbat services in Beverly Hills, California.
“The color of a person’s skin should not matter. It is what is in that person’s heart and in that person’s soul that matters,” Funnye told the congregants. “We are a Jewish people linked to each other not by color or racial background, but because of our belief.”
Funnye heads Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in the Southwest side of Chicago. His synagogue has more than 200 members and services consist of prayers and biblical passages in Hebrew where sometimes worshipers break into song and sway back and forth like a gospel choir.
Funnye was once asked to address a congregation of Jews in Africa. According to the synagogue’s head rabbi, David Baron, there is a long history of Jewish people on Africa’s continent. He says that Egypt is mentioned in the Bible almost as much as the “Promised Land.”
Funnye was introduced to Judaism from an African perspective and converted to the religion in 1971 at the age of 17, after growing up in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Funnye says that Judaism is a global faith made up of people from every part of the world in every color, stripe and ethnicity.
Though Funnye believes in diversity in the religion, not too many Black rabbis exist. America’s first Black female rabbi, Alysa Stanton, was ordained just two years ago and Funnye serves as the first African-American member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis; he is also the first Black rabbi of numerous mainstream Jewish organizations.
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