Len Lyons, July 23, 2012 // Black Jews Gain Wider Acceptance – The Forward – While they once called themselves Hebrew Israelites exclusively to distinguish themselves from Jews of European extraction, the black Jews now readily count themselves among the Jewish people without qualification. An increasing number seek out formal conversion, a practice previously seen only as a concession to the expectations of mainstream Jews. Some 85% of the members at Beth Shalom have done so, according to Rabbi Capers Funnye (pronounced Fun-NAY), their spiritual leader, who is himself a member of the mainstream Chicago Board of Rabbis (and cousin to First Lady Michelle Obama).
Today, a cadre of teens and young adults have graduated from yeshivas and Jewish day schools, creating educational parity and a shared frame of reference with the wider Jewish community. And last year, Israel?s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, paid an unprecedented visit to a black synagogue, Temple Bethel in Philadelphia, and told them, ?We are a single people endowed with the same blessings and obligations. Israel belongs to us all.?