Are Black Jews The Next Evangelicals?

Last week's religious calendar was a busy one. Easter was celebrated at the White House with the annual Easter Egg Roll, a presidential tradition dating back more than a century. But there was also the hosting of the first White House seder. Among the religiously uninformed, the feast raised an interesting question: Are there black Jews?

The answer is yes, but Jewish sects are divided over black Jews' Jewishness. Consider Philadelphia’s Temple Beth’El, founded by Louise Dailey, the daughter of a Baptist preacher. Among the Jewish orthodoxy, Jews like Dailey, who was never ordained by an acknowledged branch of Judaism, aren’t considered “Jewish enough."

Despite the claims against them from the mainline orthodoxy, the black Jewish diaspora made the headlines last year after a conference in Paris, “A Black Synagogue in Paris: What About Black Jews in the U.S., Israel, and England?” Since the meeting, the propularity of predominantly black Jewish congregations has seen a formidable expansion.

The person perhaps most responsible for this added exposure is Rabbi Capers Funnye, the chief figure at Chicago’s Beth Shalom B’nei Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, one of the country’s largest black Jewish congregations. Acknowledging Martin Luther King as a personal hero, Funnye, the first lady’s cousin, enjoys unique distinction as Obama’s rabbi. That title is earning him invitations to speak at a number of white congregations, giving this minority within a minority not just notoriety, but respect.

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