FIU to celebrate Black History Month with program featuring ‘President Obama’s Rabbi’

CONTACT: Dr. Tudor Parfitt, Florida International University or 305.409.1327

FIU to celebrate Black History Month with program featuring ‘President Obama’s Rabbi’

Florida International University will celebrate Black History Month, paying tribute to the contributions of African Americans in the United States, with a unique program that draws attention to being Black and Jewish.

Rabbi Capers C. Funnye, Jr., dubbed President Barack “Obama’s Rabbi” by The New York Times, will be the featured speaker at a program Sunday, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, located at 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The program is free and open to the public.

Funnye, spiritual leader of Chicago’s Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, one of the largest and oldest Black synagogues in nation, will discuss “The Black-Jewish Community in Chicago, 1918 to the Present.”

Following his talk, Funnye will be joined by a panel of scholars on the subject of Jewish racial and ethnic identity in America and around the world.

Panelists include Sar Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda Ahmadiel, a spokesperson and historian for the African Hebrew Israelites in Israel, and scholars Dr. Jake Dorman, a University of Kansas history professor and author of the award-winning book, Chosen People: The Rise of Black Israelite Religions; Dr. John Jackson, a University of Pennsylvania professor of communications, anthropology and Africana studies whose forthcoming book is titled, All Yah's Children: African American Israelites in the Promised Land; Dr. Len Lyons, a University of Santa Clara philosophy professor and author of The Ethiopian Jews of Israel — Personal Stories of Life in the Promised Land; and Dr. William F.S. Miles, a Northeastern University political science professor and author of Jews of Nigeria: An Afro-Judaic Odyssey; and program organizer Dr. Tudor Parfitt, a Florida International University religious studies professor and expert on global Judaising movements whose most recently-published book is Black Jews in Africa and the Americas.

Funnye, 61, was raised on the South Side of Chicago. His paternal relatives, from the barrier islands off Charleston, SC, are from the Gullah community, which retain much of its original African customs and ancestral language. His mother, Verdelle, was the sister of Fraser Robinson, Jr., First Lady Michelle Obama’s grandfather – making Funnye and Michelle Obama first cousins, once removed.

While Funnye grew up in a Christian family, years after attending Howard University he gravitated to the Hebrew Israelite movement. There, he found his true spiritual calling. He went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, converted to Judaism, and was ordained as a rabbi in 1985, the same year he joined Beth Shalom, a 200-member congregation. A founder of the Alliance of Black Jews, he is the first African-American member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

Presented by FIU’s Jewish Studies Initiatives, the program is co-sponsored by the university’s Initiative for Global Jewish Communities, the President Navon Professor of Sephardi-Mizrahi Studies , and African &African Diaspora Studies Program.

For more information, contact the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU at 786.972.3175 or