Rabbi key to Obama’s bid for Jewish vote

Rabbi Capers C. Funnye
Democratic U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama, who has been struggling to gain the Jewish vote, could have taken advantage of his wife’s cousin who’s one of the most distinguished black rabbis in the U.S. Still, this has almost slipped media attenti

Michelle Obama’s cousin is Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago's South Side. Funnye's mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye (born Verdelle Robinson) and Michelle Obama's paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister.

Funnye is chief rabbi at the Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation. He also serves on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

The rabbi is known for his efforts to bring together the mainstream Jewish population and smaller black Jewish congregations – commonly referred to as Hebrews or Israelites. He has repeatedly called on the larger Jewish community to accept more non-white Jews.

Much analysis of Obama’s relationship with the Jewish community has been made during the presidential campaign. On the one hand, wealthy Jewish families played a major role in Obama’s rise to power in Chicago. On the other hand, the presidential nominee has not been a success breaking scepticism by the Jewish community over Israel. Moreover, there are persistent rumours (which are false) that Barack Obama is a Muslim, with a number of articles appearing in online editions and discussions in blogs and forums.

Funnye denies any involvement in Obama’s campaign but admits he has donated money to it. Nor does he deny his family’s connection with the Democratic presidential nominee, and it is common knowledge among his Chicago congregation.

Funnye's congregation describes itself as Ethiopian Hebrew but it is in fact not related to the Jewish community of Ethiopia, most of whom have immigrated to Israel in recent decades. It is also not linked to the Hebrew Israelite black supremacist group whose street demonstrations have become familiar spectacles in a number of American cities.