Archive for rabbi

Rabbi to give invocation on Obama’s big day (2008)

Posted in ZioBama with tags , , on May 13, 2009 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

saperstein-082208The Jewish Daily Forward
August 21, 2008

WASHINGTON — Presidential historians and convention observers believe this year’s Democratic convention will be the first time that a rabbi gives an invocation before the presidential nominee’s acceptance speech since the advent of modern American political conventions nearly a century ago.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, will be making history on August 28 as he opens the Democratic convention’s last day, in front of an expected crowd of 70,000 in the audience and millions more watching from afar.

The choice of a Jewish religious leader to give the prime-time invocation is only one part of a move by the Democratic Party to raise the profile of faith in its rhetoric and activities, a move from which Jewish religious activists and evangelical Christians seem to be benefiting more than other faiths. Both groups are seen as key constituencies for the Democrats in the November elections.

“This shows how critical the party and the campaign believe the Jewish community is in the upcoming elections,” said Matt Dorf, Jewish outreach coordinator for the Democratic National Committee.

Saperstein, who was approached by convention organizers only two weeks before the scheduled invocation, said he does not see his role as a show of support for Senator Barack Obama or the Democrats, but rather as common tradition “so ingrained in American life that it cannot be perceived as a political endorsement.”

Advisers for the Obama campaign, as well as convention organizers, chose Saperstein, who for the past 34 years has led the Reform movement’s Washington political arm, after joint consultations. An official involved in the process said that Saperstein was picked because he is widely respected by members of all faiths, thanks to years of activity in building advocacy coalitions on social issues as well as on foreign policy. Saperstein has been a leading force in the Save Darfur Coalition, which strives to raise public awareness of the genocide in Sudan. [One wonders how interested Saperstein is in raising public awareness about Israel’s ongoing genocide against the 1.5 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip — 800]

But Saperstein, according to the official, was also favored because of his firm support for the separation of church and state. “If anyone was concerned the Democrats are going too far toward faith, then all the rabbis featured in the convention are very strong on church-state separation,” the official said, referring to Saperstein and six other rabbis who will attend formal events at the convention.

Not all are convinced. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which advocates strict limits on the role of religion in the public arena, called the decision to feature religious leaders in political conventions a mistake. “It seems that this year, both parties will try to prove they are holier than the other,” he said, which in his view is no more than a form of pandering.

Naturally, faith leaders participating in the convention reject that argument. Among them is Rabbi Steve Gutow, head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“One of my principal goals is to help Jews engage in faith in the context of their activism,” said Gutow, a Reconstructionist who will participate in the convention’s panel on “Getting out the Faith Vote.”

Saperstein’s big moment will take place at Denver’s Invesco Field and, after Obama’s acceptance speech, will be followed by a benediction by Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor from Northland, a church in Florida.

The creation of a “faith caucus” and a variety of planned events featuring religious leaders will bring to the Denver convention a record number of rabbis. In addition to Saperstein and Gutow, the convention will feature Orthodox rabbis Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, and Marc Schneier; Reform rabbis Amy Schwartzman from Virginia and Steve Foster of Denver, and Jack Moline, a Conservative rabbi.

In an attempt to respect sensitivities of Orthodox participants, who do not support mixed prayer, organizers made an effort to define the interfaith meetings as “gatherings” rather than services.

The Republicans have yet to announce their plans for including faith groups at their convention, which will open in St. Paul, Minn., a week after the Democrats’. An initial agenda released on August 20, however, reveals that at least three Jewish politicians will speak at the convention: Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and Independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.

The above article can be found at: Rabbi To Give Invocation on Obama’s Big Day

Michelle Obama has rabbi in her family

Posted in ZioBama with tags , , , on September 6, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

The Jewish Daily Forward
September 2, 2008
By Anthony WeissWhile Barack Obama has struggled to capture the Jewish vote, it turns out that one of his wife’s cousins is the country’s most prominent black rabbi — a fact that has gone largely unnoticed.
Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, and Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side, are first cousins once removed. Funnye’s mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye (born Verdelle Robinson) and Michelle Obama’s paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister.

Funnye (pronounced fuh-NAY) is chief rabbi at the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in southwest Chicago. He is well-known in Jewish circles for acting as a bridge between mainstream Jewry and the much smaller, and largely separate, world of black Jewish congregations, sometimes known as black Hebrews or Israelites. He has often urged the larger Jewish community to be more accepting of Jews who are not white.

Funnye’s famous relative gives an unexpected twist to the much-analyzed relationship between Barack Obama and Jews in this presidential campaign. On the one hand, Jewish political organizers, voters and donors played an essential role in Obama’s rise to power in Chicago, including some of the city’s wealthiest and most prominent families. But the Illinois senator has struggled to overcome suspicions in some parts of the Jewish community, including skepticism about his stance on Israel and discredited but persistent rumors that he is secretly a Muslim.

Funnye, who described himself as an independent, said he has not been involved with the Obama campaign but that he has donated money and was cheering it on.

“I know that her grandfather and her father and my mom and all of our relatives that are now deceased would be so very, very proud of both of them,” Funnye told the Forward.

Michelle Obama and the Obama campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Funnye told the Forward that he has known Michelle Obama (born Michelle Robinson) all her life. His mother and her father, Frasier Robinson III, enjoyed a close relationship, and Funnye said he saw Michelle several times a year when they were growing up, mostly at family functions and on occasional visits to her house.

“Her father was like the glue of our family,” Funnye said. “He always wanted to keep the family very connected and to stay in touch with each other.”

Funnye, 56, said he and Michelle, 44, were not especially close growing up, but he remembers her as “energetic and smart and very caring.”

The two fell out of touch when they grew older and went their separate ways but then reconnected years later when Michelle Obama was working for the University of Chicago and Funnye was leading a local social service organization called Blue Gargoyle. Funnye also worked with Barack Obama, then a state senator, who came and spoke at events for the organization. When Barack and Michelle Obama married, Funnye and his family attended the wedding.

Although Funnye’s congregation describes itself as Ethiopian Hebrew, it is not connected to the Ethiopian Jews, commonly called Beta Israel, who have immigrated to Israel en masse in recent decades. It is also separate from the Black Hebrews in Dimona, Israel, and the Hebrew Israelite black supremacist group whose incendiary street harangues have become familiar spectacles in a number of American cities.

Funnye converted to Judaism and was ordained as a rabbi under the supervision of black Israelite rabbis, then went through another conversion supervised by Orthodox and Conservative rabbis. He serves on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

Funnye’s relationship with the Obama family was reported in the Chicago Jewish News in an article dated August 22. A Wall Street Journal article in April reported that the aspiring first lady had a cousin (whom the paper mistakenly referred to as a second cousin) who is a prominent black rabbi but did not mention Funnye by name.

The rabbi’s familial connection with the Democratic presidential nominee is also a matter of common knowledge in Funnye’s synagogue.

“He really jumped on everyone’s radar after the 2004 convention,” Funnye said. “That’s when some people said, ‘Isn’t he related to you or something?’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s married to my cousin, and she’s making him everything that he is.’”

This article can be found at: http://www.forward.com/articles/14121/

Michelle Obama has rabbi in her family