Today in Black Jewish History Month, Rabbi Capers Funnye
How Are YOU Jewish: Convert
Capers C. Funnye Jr. is a Jewish African American who 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. 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.
He was drawn to a Hebrew Israelite sect in the early 1970s, and as his devotion to Judaism deepened, in 1985 he eventually he underwent a conversion with a bet din of two Orthodox rabbis and two Conservative rabbis, including his mentor, Rabbi Morris Fishman.
That same year, he was ordained by the New York-based Israelite Board of Rabbis and also received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies in Chicago.
Rabbi Funnye is a co-founder, with Michelle Stein-Evers and Robin Washington, of the Alliance of Black Jews, which formed in 1995.
This is Black Jewish History Month at Manishtana’s Musings.