WASHINGTON--Turns out Barack Obama--who has taken pains to woo Jewish voters and donors--has a prominent rabbi in the family. He's Rabbi Capers Funnye, the leader of a Southwest Side Chicago synagogue, Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation.
Michelle Obama and Funnye are first cousins once removed. They have not been in touch since Sen. Obama has been running for president. The Forward first wrote about Funnye last week and the story was picked up in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. Michelle Obama spokesman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld confirmed to the Sun-Times that Funnye and Michelle are cousins. "They're not close," she said.
From Haaretz: 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.
From the Forward:
Funnye, 56, has known Michelle Obama (born Michelle Robinson), 44, since she was born. Both grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and Funnye's mother and Obama's father enjoyed a close relationship.
"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 and Obama saw each other several times a year when they were growing up, mostly at family functions and on occasional visits to each other's homes. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, recalled Funnye and his family coming over for visits and said that he and her children were "as close as cousins could be."
The two fell out of touch when they grew older, but they reconnected years later when Obama was working for the University of Chicago and Funnye was leading a local social service organization called The Blue Gargoyle.
Funnye also worked with Barack Obama, who, as a state senator, came and spoke at events for the organization. When Barack and Michelle Obama married, Funnye and his family attended the wedding. Funnye said that he and the Obamas have not been in touch since the presidential campaign began