The New York Times report on “Barack Obama’s Rabbi”, Capers Funnye Jr., suggests that Obama has been hiding this connection and neither assertion is true. Having known Rabbi Funnye for years, I thought that a few things should be clarified. For Starters, he is not Obama’s Rabbi. Not that he could not be – Funnye is smart, funny, compassionate and a true community leader. In short, he has all of the personal skills and sensitivities that one looks for in a religious leader. But he has not played that role for either Senator Obama, or for Michelle to whom Rabbi Funnye is related. In fact, he is not even a member of a group calling itself Rabbis for Obama, which is sponsoring a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call for Rabbis and the Senator later this week.
But it’s the claim that Obama was hiding something that is most troubling, despite there being no evidence that he did so. It’s troubling because it’s plausible that Obama would need to hide his connection to Rabbi Funnye, given some of the painfully pathological relationships that exist between some segments of the Black and Jewish communities on the one hand, and the attitude of Jews to Jews who may not look like them on the other.
The rising tensions between elements of the Black and Jewish communities are no secret, and in the case of Obama, are typified by his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The fact is that the relationship between these two communities was cemented for generations by a shared sense of victimhood. And as each group began to compete for the mantle of most victimized, relations were strained to the breaking point. In the worst cases, each group identifies their former allies as perpetrators of the victimization e.g. the number of blacks who believe that “Jews run this country” and the number of Jews who still think that Barack Obama is a Muslim/Muslim sympathizer who hates Israel.
And while one might think that having a rabbi would dispel some of the latter’s baseless suspicion, one would be wrong. Why? Because, for many Jews, Cappers Funnye Jr. can’t be a rabbi because he doesn’t look like a rabbi, he’s black. Guess what? We come in every color! In fact, if racial purity was an issue, then I suspect that most of those reading these words would not qualify as Jews. Since most of us are probably relatively white and European looking, and Abraham and Sarah were from the Middle East, other people must have gone swimming in our gene pool. Go figure.
I would love for Barack Obama to have a rabbi. I would like him to have a few. Just as I hope that he would have pastors, imams and spiritual teachers from many traditions. And I think it would be quite interesting for Cappers Funnye to be one of them. But even more than that, I would love to wake up and find that hiding that fact was not even imaginable given the strength of the relationships between the black and Jewish communities. And that’s something that we can all work on, regardless of who becomes the next President, what faith we follow, or the color of our skin.