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In the News: September 10, 2008

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Obama's Rabbi

Obama's Rabbi

By Niko Koppel and Sarah Wheaton
The New York Times
September 10, 2008

Rabbi Capers C. Funnye Jr. at Beth Shalom B?nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago. (Photo: Sally Ryan for The New York Times)

Who knew?

Even as Senator Barack Obama has tried to overcome skepticism by some Jewish voters, he has been keeping a little family secret. Turns out that a member of the Obama clan is a rabbi.

Rabbi Capers C. Funnye Jr., who heads a predominantly black congregation in Chicago, is a cousin of Michelle Obama, Mr. Obama's wife. Rabbi Funnye is the son of Verdelle Robinson Funnye, the sister of Mrs. Obama's grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr. The relationship was first reported in The Wall Street Journal without mentioning Rabbi Funnye by name.

As the first black member of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and many mainstream Jewish organizations, Rabbi Funnye is well known in Chicago, primarily for his efforts to build bridges across racial and religious divides. He was also known to Mr. Obama: Though Rabbi Funnye, 56, is older than Mrs. Obama, 44, the cousins grew up in bordering neighborhoods and saw each other at family celebrations.

"I remember Michelle being very kind and loving, very considerate and a good person," Mr. Funnye said.

Rabbi Funnye has contributed to the campaign and mentions the Democratic presidential nominee in sermons before his congregation at Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Congregation, which has 200 members. He is not, however, one of the 300 members of the newly formed group Rabbis for Obama (though Ethan Tucker, stepson of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut now backing Senator John McCain, is.)

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