Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rabbinical Board Gets Its First Black Member

From
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88650380&sc=emaf

Rabbi Capers Funnye says his mother came to understand his embrace of Judaism. Courtesy of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation

The Bryant Park Project, March 20, 2008 ยท Capers Funnye is an African-American man who went from being a Christian in the segregated South to the first African-American rabbi to sit on an all-white rabbinical board. A leader of Chicago’s Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, he’s also the first black rabbi elected to the city’s Board of Rabbis and one of 27 black rabbis in the entire country.

Funnye says his move to Judaism began at the age of 17, when his pastor urged him to become a preacher. That pressure, he says, inspired a youthful exploration of other religions. As he began to embrace Judaism, he says his mother was distraught. “She thought that I was abandoning God,” he says. “Finally, she came to the conclusion that I really wasn’t abandoning God. ... Jesus was a Jew. Jesus was a rabbi. And so, in fact, as she learned more, she embraced the idea more.”

All his life, Funnye had seen depictions of biblical times, but no one in the images looked like him or his family. But as he learned more about the Jewish community in Ethiopia and its long and extensive history, he realized that “some of these people had to look something like me.”

How hard is it to be both black and Jewish? “You might look at it as being cursed,” he says. “I look at is as being twice blessed.”

Funnye is a groundbreaking African-American, a first likely to inspire others. What first does he want to see? He says in the current political situation he’s very eager to see “the first woman or the first African-American elected president,” adding, “it would just simply be an earmark of what America is and what America, in fact, can become.”

But he says there are still many firsts that need work before they can be achieved. “I’m still looking for the first woman to be ordained in the Orthodox Jewish community. ... I have a congregant and I’m helping her become one of the first black women to be ordained as a rabbi.”

“I would rather be on the side of pushing for total equality of all than standing on the sidelines.”

Posted by SPN on 03/23 at 02:50 PM
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