Posts Tagged ‘BLACK HEBREWS’

“THE BLACK JEWS OF SOUTH-SIDE CHICAGO”-FROM WEEKENDAMERICA.PUBLICRADIO.ORG

January 15, 2009

20080418_jew0_27from weekendamerica.publicradio.org

The Black Jews of South-Side ChicagoEric Molinsky
APRIL 19, 2008

Holding the Torah at Temple Beth Shalom (Photo courtesy Temple Beth Shalom)

Temple Beth Shalom was built more than six decades ago, when the South Side of Chicago was full of Eastern European Jews. The synagogue is still here, but the congregation has changed. Today, the members are mostly African-American, and they call themselves Hebrew Israelites.

In some ways, the congregation borrows from traditions of black Christian worship. Congregants stand at their pews, clapping and singing, and many wear dashikis and tailored black robes. Men wear large skullcaps of traditional African design, with Jewish iconography woven into the patterns.

Tammy McCullough has attended the synagogue since she was a child, and says she identifies with the ancient Israelites because they were dark-skinned and they were slaves. “My grandmother always told me we were the people who came out of Egypt,” McCullough says.

“We don’t forget we’re descendants from slaves — we went through a lot to get here as a people. We bring that spirit with us in the music, in the teaching, in the speaking,” she says. “We are passionate people, because at one point that’s all we had, our passion and our music. That’s all we had.”

The Hebrew Israelite movement started in the early 1900s, around the same time as The Nation of Islam. Both religious movements appealed to African-Americans who were seeking a new identity beyond the black Christian church.

At a recent Saturday, Rabbi Capers Funnye led the congregation through a six-hour service that included prayers in Hebrew. He also gave a sermon about the environment, using Biblical interpretation.

Rabbi Funnye was born a Christian and grew up in the South during the Jim Crow era. In his mind, he couldn’t separate Christianity from the politics of segregation. He went through a spiritual crisis — he looked at Islam for a while, then explored Judaism. One day, he asked a white rabbi about the role of Africans in the Old Testament. “He said… many of the first Jews were in fact people of African descent — and I said a ‘Ha! That’s starting to make some sense — now we can talk more.”

There are different sub-groups within Judaism, from Hasidic to Sephardic. Rabbi Funnye studied all of them, and picked the practices that made sense to him. He became a Jew in 1971 and eventually was ordained as a rabbi — because, he says, it fit his personality and his inquisitive mind.

“Judaism allows a person to be as intellectual as they can possibly be, and still hold on to all the faith in the world,” Rabbi Funnye says. “You do not have to give up your faith to be a good Jew. You do not have to give up your intellect to be a good Jew. They coexist within the Jew. Other faiths don’t necessarily allow that.

“So why Judaism? You can question God.”

In some ways, Rabbi Funnye’s spiritual development, and the black synagogue, mirrors the history of activism in the black community from the Civil Rights movement to identity politics. Judaism, he says, provides a set of rules that governs daily life. The rituals remind people that God is watching, and Jewish law help them wrestle with moral choices, both big and small. “That’s the wresting inside of every human being that has to go on,” Rabbi Funnye says. “And Judaism allows those dichotomies and those tensions to exist in us. And it’s OK. It’s OK.”

His positive message seems to resonate — membership has soared. And he’s bringing the congregation closer to their roots in Africa: Temple Beth Shalom is working with several congregations in Uganda. Rabbi Funnye says that unlike Ethiopian Jews, the congregations in Uganda have had very little contact with the outside Jewish world until now.

“And one group of leaders said to me in my last visit in September: ‘Rabbi, please, if we join and you become our spiritual leader, please tell me that we can still drum and dance.’ I said I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Back in Chicago, even white Jews are beginning to come through the door. But these are mostly Reform Jews, from the liberal wing of Judaism. The Orthodox refuse to recognize Hebrew Israelites. Some of the black Jews aren’t sure what to make of the white congregants. The Rabbi hopes to bridge the gap and let both sides know they should feel right at home with each other.

“The pronunciation may be a little different, but the words are the same,” he says.

Music Bridge: Joseph Artist: Steven Bernstein
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By Reuven Levi
From PE, 12/29/2008

So called jesus, and the true Hebrew Messiah “YESHUA” are not ONE in the same, the gentiles created jesus, and YHVH Sent us his YESHUA” [SALVATION]

Learn more at
http://www.authenticjews.com
By Shemiaih Yisrael
From Cleveland, OH, 11/30/2008

Praise YAHWEH
By Rabbi Samuel ben Levi
From Pittsburgh, PA, 11/09/2008

As a descendant of the tribe of Levi, my forefather was brought here captured and sold as a slave. I as a child often hearing the story past down five generations, and knowing that I’m a Prince of Israel will soon rise to take my throne. It is mandated, soon to come pass by the hand of Hashem..
By Wilverson Dubreze
From Lawrenceville, GA, 10/26/2008

I wish to know if you have a temple in GA?
By Travis Bereza
08/30/2008

There is a proven genetic link between the Kohanim of the Ashkenazim and those of the Sephardi, along with the Lemba of Africa, the Lemba being the product, evidently, of Kohanim who fled the Holy Land and produced children with native women.
By Avi-yona Israel
From chicago, IL, 04/29/2008

In response to these two comments: The word Jew means of the tribe of Judah (and includes Levi and benjamin as well). So yes Jesus IS a Jew and the term should not be considered darogatory.

By mika’el yahsra’el
04/21/2008

“JESUS” was not a “JEW”
He was a Hebrew.

and

By jack bean
From INGLEWOOD, CA, 04/21/2008

there is no such thing as a black jew. they are and always will be HEBREW ISRAELITES YES, AND THEY’RE ALL BLACKS OR dark skinned people. ThE word JEWS is an errorous term..It is like a diss name toward us,(meaning the ISRAELITES), like negro, colored, afro-this, or african-that.
By Mariam Mathew
From atlanta, GA, 04/25/2008

I think that it is a little sad that from the radio story it seems, he could only see the truth in a religion because his race was not included in the story.
I am Indian and Indians are never mentioned in the Bible but I was able to see how God reaches out to me even though there is never a particular instance of God going to India.
It annoys me when they picture Jesus as a blonde haired blue eyed babe, but it would be just as strange if he were brown with curls.
By L Boog
04/22/2008

I’m glad to see people sparring on the true name of the creator, his son and his true people. The son was a shortcut (Like in a MS Windows environment) to the actual application (.exe file, executable). While everyone keeps thinking the shortcut does performs the application, it’s the (.exe) that performs that function. All the while, the shortcut keeps telling you “To get to the father, you must click on me.”
By charles evans
From philly, PA, 04/22/2008

thats a good think . keep doing gods work.
By J.R. LeMar
From CA, 04/21/2008

T. Marcus: Yeah, that’s what I said.
By J.R. LeMar
From CA, 04/21/2008

>>By T. Marcus

From Fairfax, VA, 04/21/2008

J.R. LeMar, you have your facts wrong the Bible at that time was used to enslave the Africans. It was not used to free them or to enlighten them about the L_rd. It was used to make them understand why they were slaves and they were not allowed to read it and also was not allowed to marry. (Which is a sinful state)
By JACK BEAN
From INGLEWOOD, CA, 04/21/2008

(Mrs).Berman sorry your married.
By JACK BEAN
From INGLEWOOD, CA, 04/21/2008

ms.berman you are either a HEBREW ISRAELITES or a gentile. it is as simple as that… in the word you will see there was foreigners who dwell at times, and they follow the faith of the ISRAELITES,BUT they were NOT ISRAELITES. and they knew that.. There isn’t a “Jj” letter in HEBREW. YOU will also see in the word that Abraham has a baby by an Ethiopian woman and that child was rejected as being a chosen one because mother was an ethiopan. YOu will also see in the word, that was indeed Solomon sin, Having sexual relation with women that was not Israelites, for these women will get you to follow their gods and believe system.
By Michele Berman
From NJ, 04/21/2008

JACK BEAN what do you mean there are no black Jews? Did you forget about the Jewish people from Ethiopia? The ones forced into slavery and forbidden to follow the teachings of the Torah! Some may be the lost Israelite tribe of Dan; they may be descendants of Menelik I, son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, they may be descendants of Ethiopian Christians and pagans who converted to Judaism centuries ago, and they may be descendants of Jews who fled Israel for Egypt after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and eventually settled in Ethiopia; BUT they are Black Jews! There are many Black Jews that are not “Hebrews”.
There are also many followers of the old testament from various backgrounds for various reasons, faith, tradition, finding what works for them.
By T. Marcus
From Fairfax, VA, 04/21/2008

J.R. LeMar, you have your facts wrong the Bible at that time was used to enslave the Africans. It was not used to free them or to enlighten them about the L_rd. It was used to make them understand why they were slaves and they were not allowed to read it and also was not allowed to marry. (Which is a sinful state) There are African Hebrews and the L_rd knows who they are and unfortunately mean spirited people that want to keep the slave mind going will always talk nonsense like you. There are also now Christian-Jews. The Bible is about G_d not colour and until you learn that your soul will never ever be free. We are taught by true Judaism to bow only to the one True Living G_d. G_d and Christ frees…man enslaves.
By JACK BEAN
From INGLEWOOD, CA, 04/21/2008

Houseofyisrael.org…… read for yourself
By jack bean
From INGLEWOOD, CA, 04/21/2008

there is no such thing as a black jew. they are and always will be HEBREW ISRAELITES YES, AND THEY’RE ALL BLACKS OR dark skinned people. ThE word JEWS is an errorous term..It is like a diss name toward us,(meaning the ISRAELITES), like negro, colored, afro-this, or african-that. I would not expect thE white people in the USA,or in the world as amatter of fact TO TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT MY HISTORY.They are Gentiles with no tiesto this truth whatsoever. we never need to go them for eduaction on our belief. it was and always will be one ELOHIM (GOD) TO TALKING TO US. The laws,statute,commandments,and judgements was giving to his prophets, to shared it with the children of Israel ONLY.. YEAH WE NEED NOT GO TO THE THE GENTILES, BECAUSE THE WORLDS TURN , THE GENTILES WILL COME TO US. sidebar: all HEBREW ISRAELITES ARE MANY DIFFERNT SHADES OF BLACK, BUT not all black are NEBREW ISRAELITES.. SHALOM
By mika’el yahsra’el
04/21/2008

ISHA GREEN.

The New Testament does not tell us to pray to Jesus. It tells us to pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus. Your prayer is not to Jesus but to the ONE who sent him.
By mika’el yahsra’el
04/21/2008

“JESUS” was not a “JEW”
He was a Hebrew. HE followed the laws of the Torah. Including pasach(passover,) which he did the last time in what christians commonly refer to as the last supper.
People, please do some research on the words you use. The letter “J” is not a Hebrew letter. THe creater has a proper name and it is not “GOD”.

Before you all get on here and comment and instruct and make claims like you know everything, learn some basics and background about the religion you defend. I do not by any means claim to be an expert, and I am humble enough to know that I learn something new every day.

I reccomend two books. “Come out of her my people.” and “Fossilized customs.”
By mika’el yahsra’el
04/21/2008

What is a black Jew? If he is a HEBREW, he is not a jew. The people of tha Tanak were not jews. The word jew did not even exist. THey were Hebrews. The Yahudim. Jews are of European descent. Blacks who practise Judaism are not the same as Hebrew Israelites. This article might paint a clear pricure of this particular congregation, but it by no means correctly depicts scriptural history or the Hebrew Israelite culture.
By jay smith
From conroe, TX, 04/20/2008

story
By Dan R
From Boston, MA, 04/20/2008

I am white man who was born into Judaism and Bar Mitzvahed. I turned away from organized religion in my mid teens after the rabbi I grew up with retired. The replacement rabbi had passion, and perhaps even charisma, but he did not project wisdom. I felt my synagogue had lost its direction. My wife and I are now expecting our first child and we want to find a new congregation so that we may provide our child with a religious education as well as a secular education. I wish that Temple Beth Shalom was here in Boston, as Rabbi Funnye sounds like the kind of inspirational religious leader that would draw me back to organized religion. Bravo on a wonderful piece about this leader and his congregation who seem to have truly discovered spirituality.
By M Berman
From NJ, 04/20/2008

First and foremost, Isha Green qouted form Matthew…. the book of Matthew doesn’t not even exist in the Jewish faith. Matthew is from the new books and is NOT followed by Jews at all. Second, their are blacks Jews. It depends on where the people of Egypt settled after their fled from the Pharoh. Egypt being in Africa… draw it up…. My family fled to European countries while others settled in China, other African countried that were safe like Morocco…. As far as Rabbi Capers Funnye, I can’t speak for him, I can only assume that he found a faith that he could believe in and others did as well. There are truly African Jews that have settled around the country who have followed as they were raised and taught through their traditions. As any Jew will know, its all about tradtion and keep them alive.
By John L
From Milwaukee, WI, 04/20/2008

Rabbi Funnye is so right, “Judaism allows a person to be as intellectual as they can possibly be, and still hold on to all the faith in the world.” Judaism allows one to think and learn endlessly, while in Christianity one’s reasoning is being resticted one is always walking in a tight robe – reason and faith in constant conflict. Here, the inquisitive mind is the key. If someone really inquires into Judaism, as Rabbi Funnye did long ago, one will see the light, the beauty of Judaism.
By C Reed
From Parts Unknown, YT, 04/19/2008

Earth is the planet We All inhabit.
Labels are sewn onto our jeans that
we are conditioned to wear………
.
.

…….What type of Nike’s are You”
By Gabar Ahmath
From NYC, NY, 04/19/2008

Saying “Black Jew” is like saying Black African American. The so-called Jews were and are Black. Being a Jew doesn’t belong to those white people who call themselves Jews. They are converts from the Khazar Empire. We were born Jews. This is why the slave masters didn’t want us to speak any of our native languages or read the Bible. The Bible was authored by and about so-called Black people.
By C Reed
From Parts Unknown, YT, 04/19/2008

America lost in translations……………….
America the Free, Historically speaking……..
is it DNA that defines the colors of our souls?
By Isha Green
04/19/2008

I feel that this so man embarked on something when wanting to accept the Jewish Way. I am not sure if he found it or not I have not heard him minister. But I will say this to all people. Jesus was a Jew, As it says in Matthew, He came to save his people. So if you want to be close to GOD, you need to know and obey the teachings of His Son. If you believe that Jesus died and arose and is truly the Son of GOD. The scriptures clearly states that there is no other way to Him but by His Son. That is why we pray to Jesus. He is the Mediator Between God and Man. The Scriptures teach us the life that Jesus taught, if we want to get to Heaven. How your actions should be here on earth. Without Him you will never know GOD. The Scriptures clearly states, He who hath the Son hath the Father. Obey the teachings of Jesus. The Hebrew Jesus. The Jew. His people were Jewish and He lived Jewish.
Refer to Matthew 3:17

And Lo,came a voice from Heaven, saying, This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

You will never get to GOD without going through His Son. Obey His Son, Follow Jesus Teachings

Thanks
By Isha Green
04/19/2008

I feel that this so man embarked n something when wanting to accept the Jewish Way. I am not sureif he found it or not I have not heard him minister. But I will say this to all people. Jesus was a Jew, As it says in Matthew, He came to save his people.So if you want to Be close to GOD, you need to know and obey the teachings of His Son. If you believe that Jesus died and arose and is truly the Son of GOD. The scriptures clearly states that there is no other way to Him but b His Son. That is why we pray to Jesus. He is the Mediator Between God and Man. The Scriptures teach us the life that Jesus wants us to live. Without Him you will never know GOD. The Scriptures clearly states, He who hah the Son hath the Father. Obey the teachings of Jesus. The Hebrew Jesus. The Jew. His peolple were Jewish and He lived Jewish. Thanks
By Katukula Katukula
From Manchester, WY, 04/19/2008

The ridiculousness in all this is that the person christians claim to follow Jesus or specifically Yahushuah was not christian at all. He was a torah practising Jew that came to include gentiles in the israelite covenant so that they too could become israelites. The pharasee’s or as they are called today orthodox rabbi’s are the same people that distorted the torah and added false traditions like the oral torah, midrash and mishnanh. It is saddening to see black people trying to adopt this side of religion instead of following the torah like the son of man yahushuah wanted us to. I respect Karaite jews and Natsarim jews because they push for a more purer textual religion instead of man made laws.
By J.R. LeMar
From CA, 04/19/2008

“I don’t understand how blacks who have historically believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

Blacks have not “historically” believed in Jesus Christ until the African slave trade was established & they were forcibly converted to Christianity by their new White slavemasters.
By stephanie barton
04/19/2008

I don’t understand how blacks who have historically believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. To be a Jew you must deny Christ as your Lord and Savior….so they walk the fence with one foot on one side and the other on the other side….nope….
By Adrian Carr
04/19/2008

I guess I can sort of understand how they would want to be Jews because when you think about it Jesus was a Jew but by him bringing upon the Jews the Holy Ghost Spirit they themselves became Christians, which is what the Christians are all about…worshiping God and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost so that their name may be written in the Book of Life. There’s no other way to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven besides that way. There’s only One Way to God.
By Don Sims
From Atlanta, GA, 04/19/2008

Thank you all so very much for this article, as an African American man I am pleased to read such inspiring and hopeful news. Rabbi Capers Funnye is absolutely correct the words are the same. Christianity is a step shy of Judaism, but the priniples are basically the same. I’ve been searching spiritually for something like this, and I hope they expand down to Atlanta. The Old Testament Rocks! Love it.

“THE DESTRUCTION OF COMMANDMENT KEEPERS 1919-2007”,A HISTORY OF THE BLACK JEWS BY A BLACK (AMERIKKKAN)JEWISH RABBI IN ISRAEL,FROM BLACKJEWS.ORG

June 25, 2008

from blackjews.org

The Destruction of Commandment Keepers, Inc. 1919-2007
by Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy

The traditional day of mourning for Jews is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av because on it the temple that King Solomon built in Jerusalem was destroyed first in 586 BCE and then again in 70 AD. Normally the month of Av occurs in August. However, in 2007 the month of Av came in April for members of the Israelite community because that is when our oldest congregation was destroyed. Psalm 137 says, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget (her skill). Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not.” Similarly, I say if we forget how this once great congregation came to such a pitiful end then we have no reason for having a brain or a heart. Therefore, I have written this article as an epitaph upon the tomb stone of Commandment Keepers Congregation.

Thousands of Israelites passed through its doors and almost every black rabbi in America owes his existence to its presence. Books, articles, and film documentaries have been made about this most famous Israelite place of worship. It was built by a young man named Wentworth Arthur Matthew who at the age of twenty-seven stood on a ladder in the streets of Harlem telling its residents that they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and needed to return to their God. In 1919 he assembled a hand full of men and women who believed enough, loved enough, and were willing to sacrifice enough to build a congregation for God’s honor and glory. Over the next eighty-eight years of its life it would be located at several places in Harlem. When my parents joined it in 1957 it was located above a drug store at 87 West 128th street. In 1962 it moved into a mansion built in 1890 for John Dwight, one of the founders of the Arm and Hammer Company.

In 1942 Rabbi Matthew published a memoir called the Minute Book, it was a summary of the early years of the congregation. In it he described those first decades as the “most gigantic struggle of any people for a place under the sun.”1 By this he was referring to the other black synagogues that did not survive the Great Depression such Beth B’nai Avraham and the Moorish Zionist Temple founded by Rabbi Arnold Ford and Rabbi Mordica Herman respectively. Even Commandment Keepers had lost a residence but the congregation—which is always more than the building that houses it—survived. Their faith in God and love for each other allowed them to overcome forces that had destroyed even Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association.

When the congregation moved into its final home, Rabbi Matthew himself painted the number “one” on the vestibule door. In part it represented the address, 1 West 123rd Street, but on a deeper level it represented Rabbi Matthew’s dream that Commandment Keepers would be the first (and possibly best) of many black synagogues to follow. In fact, some of its stationery referred to the congregation as “Headquarters” and it was thought of as such by many of Matthew’s students throughout New York and Chicago until its decline. Moreover, in the minds of many people outside of our community, Commandment Keepers Congregation was synonymous with Black Jews. Because of its unique history it was the only black synagogue in the United States that was recognized as an historic landmark.

The Fall
The Talmud says “when the parties to a suit are standing before thee, let them both be regarded by thee as guilty, but when they are departed from thy presence, regard them both as innocent, the verdict having been acquiesced in by them.”2 – Avot 1:8. Therefore, if we were to apply this teaching to the parties responsible for the loss of Commandment Keepers Congregation then publicly we would have to say that they are all guilty. Indeed, we are all guilty of things we did or failed to do that might have changed this outcome. However, the scriptural images that comes to my mind is the case of the two woman who came before King Solomon both claiming to be mother of one living child. Here, too, both sides in this calamity claim that they are the rightful leaders and owners of the building. King Solomon’s verdict to divide the baby in half relied upon the belief that the true mother would say the child’s life is more important than her being right. Therefore, she would give up her claim to save the child.

“The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” – I King 3:26
Thinking about what happened to Commandment Keepers Congregation is like watching an explosion in slow motion. The fire there had been burning slowly and internally almost since the death of our founder, Chief Rabbi W.A. Matthew, in 1973. Reliving what happened there is like performing an autopsy or writing a manual for how to destroy a synagogue from within.

Each side in this internecine struggle thought that they were fighting the enemy when, in fact, they were fighting themselves. Hence, they were committing suicide as they murdered the congregation. On some level this was obvious to everyone except those who were most emotionally obsessed with the battle. Over the decades attempts by respected individuals and organization within the Israelite community to broker a peace were repeatedly rejected by both sides. As Rabbi Hailu Paris describes the squabbling the plagues our community, “Yom Kippurs came and went without any forgiveness.” Conciliatory phone calls were made and letters of reconciliation were written, but they seemed locked in a downward spiral of accusations, confrontation, litigation—somehow believing that the next law suite will finally resolve the problem. Even now, the sale of the building may not be the end of the feuding. The last attempt was made about three years ago. I informed the parties that the Israelite Board of Rabbis was willing to convene at Bet Din (Rabbinic Court) to resolve this issue and finally heal this open wound which has been a blight on our entire community. Both sides rejected this offer; once again putting their individual wants above the needs of their congregation and ignoring the institutions of the Israelite community that they claim to cherish.3

“Two households, both alike in dignity…” The words that Shakespeare used to open his tragic play Romeo and Juliet would be a fair description of the two families that were at the heart of the conflict that destroyed Commandment Keepers Congregation. Both families were honorable and distinguished. One of the warring camps was led by Rabbi David Dore, the grandson of Chief Rabbi Matthew, and the other combatants were led by the late Rabbi Chaim White, one of Chief Rabbi Matthew’s most loyal and trusted students. By most accounts, Rabbi Matthew expected these parties to work together. He never imagined that they would become entangled in a struggle to the death for control of what he built.

Commandment Keepers 87 West 128th Street Rabbi Matthew’s two sons had not followed in his rabbinic footsteps; therefore he naturally placed great hope in David, his daughter’s son. Although he was advancing in years, before the chief rabbi retired he ordained his grandson. Rabbi Dore was only seventeen at the time, the youngest rabbi ever ordained in our community, and the news of his elevation took some by surprise. Still a student at Yeshiva High School, Rabbi Dore was looking forward to his studies at Yeshiva University. He was bright and promising but obviously too young to lead a congregation alone. Rabbi White was a dedicated, faithful, and proud man. He was also a gifted speaker as opposed to a Torah scholar or Baal Tefillah. It may very well be that the source of animus between the two men stemmed from the perception in their eyes that the younger was arrogant and disrespectful and the older was insecure and ill prepared. What is certain is that both men could have benefited from the other’s strengths. Instead, what followed was a series of insults and counter insults that started small and eventually grew, consuming what could have been a strong partnership—or at least a smooth transition—and replacing it with a bitter and ugly feud that continued for almost three decades and ended in self-destruction. Each side claims that the other committed the first intolerable act that justified his subsequent bad behavior.

Tension turned into open rebellion when Rabbi Dore was locked out of the synagogue and effectively banned from the bimah in the early 1980s. From Rabbi Dore’s perspective this was the start of the coup d’état that wrongly deposed him of the position his grandfather bequeathed. Rabbi White regarded that moment as the necessary actions taken by the congregation’s legitimate board to deal with an ungovernable member. Although a few people took sides in this civil war, most people whose history in our community extends back for thirty years or more remember these events like a child who grew up in a dysfunctional family. We did not wish for a winner in the fight between father and mother or our sister and our brother. We simply wanted the fighting to end and prayed that the wonderful times we shared together with the combatants when we were as one unified and harmonious family could return.

Other low points on the road to destruction include a sidewalk bar mitzvah in 1994 when Rabbi Dore’s son was forced to enter manhood on the curb because they were not allowed to use the sanctuary. Almost ten years later another flurry of law suits occurred and the altercations became more violent as Rabbi Dore claimed that he was pushed to the floor inside the building following a prayer service by someone close to Rabbi White. Police were brought in on several occasions including one in which people close to Rabbi Dore hired a locksmith to enter and temporarily occupy the building. As late as 2006, several people including Rabbinit White were physically assaulted on the Sabbath while trying to enter the synagogue. These incidents did not occur frequently but their severity and unpredictability created a climate of hostility that weighed on the declining congregation like death itself.

During this long embattled period, Rabbi Dore entered into a self-imposed exile during which he virtually cut himself off from the rest of the Israelite community. Except for an occasional funeral or wedding he was rarely seen. He was not a member of the Israelite Board of Rabbis, he did not teach in the Israelite Rabbinical Academy, and he did not generally worship at black congregations. In contrast, the White family—particularly Rabbi and Rabbinit White—remained engaged in the Israelite community beyond Commandment Keepers Congregation. It may be that Rabbi Dore and his supporters assumed, incorrectly, that any person or synagogue that welcomed the Whites was ipso facto against the Dores and vice versa. Without a doubt the family feud at Commandment Keepers was a blight on the entire community, but there was very little that people outside the congregation could do to ameliorate the situation. The families of Rabbi Yehoshua Yahonatan and Rabbi Levi Ben Levy urged the parties to seek a compromise, but during most of the period these rabbis were building new congregations in Brooklyn, Queens, and Mt. Vernon.4 It was hoped that when a new rabbi was appointed, Rabbi Zechariah Ben Lewi, following his ordination in 2000 that he might be able to usher in a new period of reconciliation—since he was not a party to any of the earlier fighting. Sadly, things declined even more precipitously as members who stuck with the congregation through earlier storms grew weary and frustrated. As one of these members described it, near the end “it wasn’t the fighting outside that turned me away, it was the fighting inside.”

David Lee, the Gabi of the congregation and a fierce supporter of the Whites, told the Israelite Board of Rabbis that the decision to sell the building in April 2007 for a reported $1.6 million dollars was not easy. Since he and other principles to the original dispute are now in their seventies and eighties, it may be that they feared that the building might have fallen into the hands of their nemesis should they die or retire. Rather than see this happen, they sold the synagogue without so much as a memorial service, which is requisite when a synagogue is closed. Members were not even told of the last service or given an opportunity to pay their last respects. No efforts were made to find homes for the Torahs, religious articles, or financial proceeds from the sale within the Israelite community. Needless to say, the manner in which all this occurred added a degree of sadness that is worse than had the building burned down because that would have been an accident but this was done with an element of spite and hate—the two things that really destroy a congregation.

In retrospect, the handwriting was on the wall. Like Babylon our hearts and actions were measured and found lacking. Therefore, as tragic as this is, I yet believe that it is a warning from a merciful God asking us to look at how we behave. We should be embarrassed by the spectacle that we see in the mirror enough to change. In this conflict there was no mother who was willing to sacrifice her desires in order to save the child. Learn from this warning. Do not let divisions fester in your congregation. Our problems will never be solved by courts, police, or any outside bodies. We must love each other, support each other, and trust our own institutions. If they are weak then we must work to make then stronger as if our survival depends upon it because it does.

We did not lose this part of our foundation to a tragic fire, nor was it due to a lack of financial resources, nor were racist or anti-Semites to blame. No! We loss that building because self-interest became more important than devotion to Hashem and love of each other. Thus, the memory of that building has now become a monument to self-destruction.

Author with father, Rabbi Levi Levy, on bimah of Commandment Keepers, 1967

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1Sholomo B. Levy, African American Lives
2The full Hebrew quotation is:
:אַל תַּעַשׂ עַצַמְךָ כַּעוֹרְכַי הַדַּיָּנִין. וּכַשֶׁיִּהְיוּ בַּעַלַ דִינִין עוֹמְדִים לַפַנֶיךָ, יִהְיוּ בַעַינֶיךָ כַּרְשָׁעַים. וּכַשֶׁנִּפַטָרִים מִלַּפַנֶיךָ, יִהְיוּ בַעַינֶךָ כַּזַכַּאִין, כַּשֶׁקִּבַּלוּ עַלַיהֶם אֶת הַדִּין
Various translations are possible but the point will always be the same.
3The Torah actually commands us to create our own courts to settle these matters. “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” – Deut 16:18
4Rabbinit Leah Yehonatan remained on the Board of Commandment Keepers until the end and Rabbi Yahonatan had the status of emeritus, but even they were omitted from all discussions and votes on the sale of the building, which raises a host of other question about legality and propriety of the sale


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