With new chief rabbi, black Hebrew-Israelites make bid to enter the Jewish mainstream

Source: The Washington Post

The Israelites walked slowly, chanting in Hebrew and wrapped in loose white robes. A reverential silence spread across the crowd as one figure emerged above the rest. Hundreds had gathered to witness a sacred moment. “I came so that my children’s children would remember this day,” said one Israelite. “Hallelujah,” called another.

It was a scene out of the Torah: after years of uncertainty a new leader was being installed.

But these Israelites, unlike their biblical namesakes, had not come from scattered desert encampments, but from Georgia, New York, California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Delaware. They were gathered not on a craggy mountain overlooking the valleys of the Holy Land, but deep in the Southside of Chicago.

`Funnye has already made headlines. He’s the cousin of Michelle Obama and the first African American to join the Chicago Board of Rabbis. He has spent his career redrawing racial and religious boundaries. In sermons Funnye quotes from Malcolm X, Marcus Mosiah Garvey and old spirituals, but also Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Louis Jacobs and the Talmud.

“My blackness and my Jewishness, they synthesize,” said Funnye on the day of his installation as chief rabbi last weekend. His office was lined with weathered books on Judaism; a map of Africa hung on the wall. “I’m not in anybody’s box. We need this community recognized by the Jewish people. And I am their spokesperson.”

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Categories: Judaism

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