Last night in synagogue, Rabbi Capers Funnye (sp?), Michelle Obama's cousin, spoke about the Black Jewish community in the U.S. . I have always known there were black synagogues. In fact, a couple of years ago, we had a black Jewish gospel singer (sounds like a contradiction in terms!) perform for us and neighboring synagogues, and he made the place rock. But the impression we have generally is that the black Jews in our own community are here because they have married Jews or have been born into multiracial families. The idea of people of color, of whatever persuasion, unilaterally joining up with a community that traditionally does not advocate such conversion, that perhaps even shuns it and is suspicious of it, is odd to say the least.
Funnye is a distinguished man, an old friend of our rabbi's from his Chicago days, and leader of a black Jewish congregation in Chicago, as well as a major mover in the Global Judaism movement. I never knew such a movement existed, but apparently there are many people in Africa and in other nations who want to become Jews. We have met other African Jewish communities, such as the one in Uganda, and of course know of the Falashas, from Ethiopia, but these are people who, like Funnye himself, have chosen Judaism, though they were raised in other traditions.
He told it straight: he and others of his ilk were tired of insulting questions from skeptical Jews, like "When did you convert?" "How long have you been Jewish?" or even "How did YOU get to be Jewish?" It is good for us to hear that we are not welcoming to those we view as outsiders, whether they are people of color or not. My own husband experienced this when we first married, and it put him off Judaism completely, and in fact, off of all religion.
That was the first time in synagogue I recall that someone got an instantaneous standing ovation.