Rabbi Funnye addresses anti-semitism on campus in speech at DePaul University

JUF News   June 27, 2012
By STEPHANIE R. DYKEMAN

In May, the DePaul University College of Law Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies (JLJS) held its Interactive Law Symposium entitled “A Comparative Analysis of Law through Biblical, Talmudic and Scholarly Texts.” As the only law school center in the Midwest dedicated to promoting Jewish scholarship, JLJS is in a unique position to advance multi-disciplinary Jewish education from a broad spectrum of perspectives.

This was evident at the Symposium, where attendees were able to attend lectures by notable Jewish scholars from around the country on a variety of subjects, including the intersection between rabbinical courts and secular courts, a comparison of Jewish and legal ethics, Jewish law perspectives on reporting child sexual abuse to secular authorities, and women’s issues related to Jewish traditions.

The Symposium culminated with a keynote lecture by Rabbi Capers Funnye, Jr., rabbi and spiritual leader of Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation (one of the largest African-American congregations in America), about “Anti-Semitism on the College Campus and Free Speech.”

Pointing to San Francisco State University and other universities that have become havens for anti-Israel and, at times, anti-Semitic behavior, Rabbi Funnye warned against the growing potential for the development of the “uncivil university” wherein hate-speech is fomented and inflammatory tactics reign free. He railed against universities where anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism is not only tolerated, but allowed to flourish because he believes college campuses are not the place for extremist views or hate speech. He urged universities and colleges to balance academic freedom with academic responsibility, and argued that faculty should serve as examples of how to communicate cordially while maintaining both professionalism and professorship.

“Teaching and research must be free of politics and propaganda,” and academic openness, with the ability to dissent, hear both sides, keep an open mind and even, perhaps, change one’s mind, is crucial to maintaining a civil university, according to Funnye.

Citing that Jewish groups, including the JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council, have made great strides in interfaith relations, Funnye argued that to “affect a greater understanding of the State of Israel, we must reach out to the leadership in other communities.” He stated that it is up to Jews to demonstrate to the Latino and African American communities, among others, the importance of the relationship between America and Israel.

Funnye also encouraged the Jewish community to expand its understanding of “who is a Jew” and lauded Israel for being a haven for people from around the world, including African Jews. Rabbi Funnye stated, “The Jew is neither white as Ashkenazi, nor black as Ethiopian. When we as Jews embrace that idea, then kol Yisrael arevim ze b’ze (all of Israel is responsible for one another) will occur.” He closed by encouraging greater inclusiveness amongst Jews, and said, “We must recognize diversity among the Jewish people.”

Stephanie R. Dykeman is the director of Domestic Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council. She is also an advisory board member of the DePaul University College of Law Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies.

Rabbi Funnye’s Biographical Sketch

Capers C. Funnye Jr. (pronounced fu-NAY; born 1952[1]) is an African American who is the head rabbi of the mostly African-American 200 member Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of Chicago, Illinois, as assisted by Rabbis Avraham Ben Israel and Joshua V. Salter.[2] He 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.[3] The organization was founded by Funnye in 1985 as a direct offshoot of Wentworth Arthur Matthew‘s Commandment Keepers.[4][5] He was ordained a rabbi by the Israelite Rabbinical Academy in 1985.[6][dead link] In 1996, Funnye was the only official black rabbi in the Chicago area recognized by the greater Jewish community.[7] 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.[8]

Funnye is the first cousin once removed of Michelle Obama, the wife of 44th United States President Barack Obama.[1][9]

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, feeling a sense of intellectual and spiritual liberation in the constant examination that he saw the religion encouraging.[3]

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 seek converts, 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.[3]

Rabbi Funnye is a co-founder, with Michelle Stein-Evers and Robin Washington, of the Alliance of Black Jews, which formed in 1995.[10]

Rabbi Funnye says, “I am a Jew, and that breaks through all color and ethnic barriers.”[3]

 

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