Michelle Obama has a rabbi in her family

By Carol Eisenberg

September 12, 2008 at 5:06pm

Much has been made about the anxiety that some Jews feel about Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, related to concerns about the depth of his support of Israel.

But despite his efforts to reassure them, Obama rarely speaks of the rabbi in his own family.

The candidate’s wife, Michelle Obama, is a first cousin once removed to Rabbi Capers C. Funnye Jr., spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side, according to a report earlier this month in the Forward, a Jewish newspaper.

Funnye’s mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye (born Verdelle Robinson) and Michelle Obama’s paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister.

Funnye, 56, a convert to Judaism, was the first black rabbi to join the Chicago Board of Rabbis and 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, according to the Forward.

Describing himself as a political independent, Funnye said he is not involved with the campaign, but has donated money and moral support. Although he is 12 years older than Michelle Obama, he said they grew up seeing one another at family functions.

“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,” he said.

Inside his own synagogue, called Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, the rabbi’s ties to the candidate are well known.

Ever since Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, Funnye said he has fielded constant questions about the ‘rumors’ that Obama is a relation.

His stock reply: “Yeah, he’s married to my cousin, and she’s making him everything that he is.”

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  • #1.   Anna 11.15.2008

    Are we loyal to America first or Israel??
    Israe, has got to refrain from calling people anti-semetic if they
    ask questions or disagree with them. They should stop plying the
    anti-semetic card just lik we tell blacks not to play the ace card.

    When are Americans, especially our politicians going to say to Israel,
    You are our friend and we would never allow another country to invade,
    bully, or harm you but you have got to give the palestinians their land,
    water, money, and right to govern themselves. The vast majority of palestinians are good people and should not suffer because of a few bomb
    happy thuggish criminals, and they should not be held responsible for what
    those criminal do, any more than we should be held responsible for the
    Timothy McVey’s, and other criminals here in America.

    Yes, we care about Israel and will do all we can to protect them but
    we cannot continue to send American men and women to their death on
    the battlefield without at least sitting sown and talking to our enemies
    like Iran or Syria. We tell young people before they fight, try to work it out.

    If America is going to help Israel we have to remain a strong country
    and we cannot do that if we continue to get into wars, and refuse to
    talk to people because Israel doesn’t want it. We cannot let Israel set
    foreign policy for America, they need to trust that we are their friend
    and we care about them, and we do. (at least I know I do)

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