Capers C. Funnye, Jr. (pronounced fu-NAY; born 1952) is an African American rabbi, who leads the 200-member Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of Chicago, Illinois, assisted by rabbis Avraham Ben Israel and Joshua V. Salter.
Life and career
Funnye's congregation is mostly African American. He is 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. Funnye founded the organization 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.
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. He felt 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 engage in missionary activity, 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. Rabbi Funnye says, "I am a Jew, and that breaks through all color and ethnic barriers."
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- Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation's official website
- Voices on Antisemitism Interview with Rabbi Capers Funnye, Jr., United States Holocaust Memorial Museum