Rabbi Funnye at immigrant absorption center
Photo: Bryan Hendler
Rabbi Capers Funnye, the cousin of American First Lady Michelle Obama, is in Israel for his first visit as a guest of the Jewish Agency. Funnye is the head rabbi of the mostly African-American 200-member Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of Chicago, Illinois.
On Wednesday, the rabbi visited a Jewish Agency absorption center in Mevasseret Zion. He said he was moved to see the way the State of Israel absorbs immigrants from all around the world, and was especially moved to meet Jews who arrived in Israel from Ethiopia.
The rabbi promised to deliver his impressions from the visit to the absorption center and to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum to his famous cousin. Funnye was present in a speech by Jewish Agency officials about the immigration and absorption program for Jews of Ethiopian descent.
He met with young immigrants who only arrived in Israel recently and was moved by their stories. He asked them many questions and was especially interested in the immigrants' integration in the Israeli workforce.
Referring to the 12 months which have passed since US President Barack Obama was elected, the rabbi said that "it was a year filled with activity." Asked about Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, he gave a diplomatic answer, "I wasn't on the committee."
Funnye was also asked if he planned to make aliyah, to which he replied, "God is everywhere." He was also asked a lot of questions about politics, but tried to avoid the issue and focus on Judaism.
Funnye was raised as a Christian and even took an interest in Islam. He was close to becoming a priest, but eventually decided to convert to Judaism. During Obama's election campaign, his wife's cousin was mentioned as the Democratic candidate's Jewish connection.
The rabbi was part of a delegation to Israel of African-American businesspeople and public figures organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.