Funnye Provided Insights on Outreach Work

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Continuing with its simulcasts of stimulating speakers from the Live from the 92nd Street Y, Adath Jeshurun hosted the community to hear Ari L. Goldman interview Rabbi Capers Funnye on March 2.

Telegenic and engaging, Funnye (pronounced fun-EI) covered a wide range of topics, from his own choice to become Jewish to his outreach efforts in Africa.

Rabbi Capers Funnye, Michelle Obama’s first cousin, holds a pulpit on the South Side of Chicago and is the first African American rabbi to serve on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

When he first chose Judaism, he recounted that he had the opportunity to choose his own name. After doing some research, he discovered that capers were an ingredient in the incense used in the original temple and Funnye was part of the name of Caleb’s father. With such strong Jewish connections, he decided to keep the name he was given at birth.

Rabbi Funnye views his role in the Jewish community as that of bridge builder between African American Jews and Jews of color, and he describes his Chicago congregation, Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, as a house of prayer for all people, with African American, Asian, Latino and white congregants. He says the congregation is egalitarian, however, men and women choose to sit separately but without a mechitza (physical barrier to separate men from women).

They use the Art Scroll prayer book and rotate between using an Askenazic Torah scroll and a Sefardic Tik (a Torah scroll encased in a metal frame).

He has been to Israel and felt a strong connection. He came to understand Israel’s small size, saw the results of terrorism in Sderot and found the land to be exciting, educational and informative. “I can’t wait to go back,” he said, and is planning a congregational trip.

Rabbi Funnye is the founder of a group called B’chol Lashon (literally, in every language) that is working to help groups with ancient ties to Judaism back to Judaism. His group is working with Rabbi Gershom Sizomu in Uganda. (A few years ago, prior to his ordination, Rabbi Sizomu came to Louisville and performed at the Adath Jeshurun Festival.) Much of his work, however, is in Nigeria.

He is helping communities in Africa set up congregations and working with Rabbi Sizomu to start a Yeshiva.

One more Live from the 92nd Street Y program remains in this series. On Tuesday, March 16, Thane Rosenbaum will interview Matisyahu, and the renowned singer is expected to perform at least a couple of songs. Tickets are $8 or, if you bring your ticket stub from the AJ Music Fest on Sunday, March 16, admission is free.

This program is sponsored by the Charles and Jean Erskine Speakers Fund.

Adath Jeshurun plans to offer more of these popular lectures at a later date.

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