Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Michelle Obama's cousin Jewish Rabbi Capers Funnye visits Israel
Clifford Bryan, Examiner
Michelle Obama's Jewish Rabbi cousin Capers Funnye visited the Jewish Agency absorption center for immigrants, in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Tzion, Israel today and will meet with Ethiopian immigrants to Israel. Nearly 85% of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community, comprising more than 110,700 people, have emigrated to Israel under its Law of Return, which gives Jews and those with Jewish parents or grandparents, and all of their spouses, the right to settle in Israel and obtain citizenship.
Rabbi Capers Funnye who is First lady Michelle Obama's first cousin once removed 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.
Funnye is one of 150,000 African-Americans who practice Judaism in the United States and studies are showing African-Americans adopting Judaism is becoming much more common in the United States. One synagogue even noted about half of the people currently converting to Judaism are African-American.
Beta Israel claim they are descendants of the Tribe of Dan one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Some believe they are the descendants of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Jacob (progenitor of Israel) had 12 sons and at least one daughter by two wives and two concubines. The twelve sons fathered the twelve Tribes of Israel.
The Ten Lost Tribes are those Israelites who were deported by the Assyrians. In Jewish popular culture, the ten tribes disappeared from history, leaving only the tribes of Benjamin and Judah to become the ancestors of modern day Jews.
For whatever reason In modern times Israeli leadership has made a concerted effort to identify the lost tribes as part of the Law of Return.
Lemba people (Vhalemba) from Southern Africa claim to be descendants of a lost tribe which fled from what is now Yemen and journeyed south. DNA testing has genetically linked the Lemba with modern Jews.
Sefwi tribe(Ghana)-They have practiced Hebraic customs of not eating pork, resting on Sabbath, and circumcision for hundreds of years. The community, largely based in Sefwi Wiawso and Sefwi Sui has been receiving a steady flow of Jewish visitors from the worldwide Jewish community.
Igbo Jews are members of the Igbo people of Nigeria who practice Judaism and are said to be descended from Mediterrenian Israelites migration into West Africa. Historical evidence is conclusive on Ibo Israelite origins. Outreach to Nigerian Jews by the wider Jewish world community gained official status in 1995 – 1997, when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sent a team to Nigeria in search of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Western rabbis and educators such as Rabbi Gorin have visited the community at times and Jewish communities in the West support those in Nigeria by sending books, computers, and religious articles. However, the State of Israel has, to date, not officially recognized the Igbo as one of the Lost Tribes.
Money, race, power, politics, the beat goes on. The jewish community in the U.S. has yet to fully accept Rabbi Capers.
As Michelle Obama and the Obama administration know sometimes we get so involved in playing the race card in the U.S. that the distinctions between reality and fiction are hard to define, a hard pill to swallow if this reality can be economically and socially damaging.